Date: 31st October 2014 at 12:44pm
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Balotelli didn’t do too much wrong by swapping shirts at half time last week

Let’s have a game of ‘Guess Who’ shall we?

He’s been the subject of a rather over the top hissy fit from some of Liverpool’s greatest servants of the past. This includes Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness, and even Jamie Carragher.

At the start of the season, when his signing was announced, most people blended skepticism with the acknowledgement of the transfer fee making it a good bit of business nevertheless.

As it stands before the League Cup tie with Swansea, he’s only managed one goal for Liverpool since signing, but contributed a lot towards a blooper reel with some rather glaring misses.

Arguments can go both ways when discussing Mario Balotelli. The age old clichéd phrase that is ‘he divides opinions’ was always true of Luis Suarez and it certainly remains so with this Italian. His performances have been criticised often, sometimes rightly so.

But there’s a fine line between fair criticism and unfair targeting. With Balotelli, we’re getting very close to the line. That furore over his shirt-swap with Pepe at half time with Liverpool trailing Real Madrid at home by three goals was just a hint of what’s known as ‘missing the whole bleeding point’.

Criticise his (and his team-mates for that matter!) performance which allowed the, albeit European Champions, to go three up in the first 45 minutes. Something was definitely wrong there.

Him and his team-mates deserved to be on the receiving end of harsh feedback after that performance and rightly so. But to make an issue out of a shirt swap? Perhaps it’s becoming more a reflection of modern British society blowing things out of proportion, and this certainly was one.

I can’t for the life of me imagine this sort of reaction anywhere else. Spain, Italy, Germany, just can’t see this sort of over the top response to – I’ll say it again – a flipping shirt-swap.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, so if people think swapping shirts at half-time with your team trailing isn’t the best thing to do, sure, go right ahead and think it. Even say it. But it does not warrant a public shaming. Because it’s a minute, minuscule, and minor thing that’s barely even worth talking about.

What is it about us these days in the footballing fraternity? As our interpretations of spontaneous and real-time incidents, such as the timing of a tackle or what is and isn’t a handball, gets more pedantic by the second, so does our entire attitude towards football itself.

Time to put things in to perspective here. Balotelli, like the rest of the team, did not play well against Real Madrid. But swapping his shirt with Pepe at half-time had absolutely nothing to do with it.

It also does not show a lack of commitment. If anything, he looked extremely dejected when walking towards the tunnel and if we’re splitting hairs here, it looked as if Pepe, after the swap, patted him on the back as a consolation.

Just because he chose, in a split second, to exchange shirts, does not make him non-committed to Liverpool. His performance on the pitch, lack of movement on more than one occasion, those are the things that are fair game when it comes to criticism. Performances like that might make a case for questioning his commitment.

Not swapping shirts.

It is frustrating watching Balotelli at times, especially with the comparison always at the back of the mind with Luis Suarez and the amount of work he used to put in for the team, both on and off the ball.

Compared to the Uruguayan, Balotelli has fallen short, so far at least. His movement lacks pace and the kind of penetration that had Anfield spellbound last season.

According to Brendan Rodgers though, he is apparently working extremely hard in training to correct that aspect of his game. Since the manager’s closer than any one of us to how the players operate day in, day out, we have to take his word for it.

If his performances on the pitch don’t improve, if he continues to waste glaring opportunities in front of goal, if he doesn’t provide as much movement upfront as he should, then criticise him.

That would be fair.

Making an issue out of a shirt swap, not so much. Let’s get that perspective on our own end sorted out first, shall we?

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