Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has described Milan striker Mario Balotelli as a “spectacular waste of talent”, saying he will never be world-class and revealing how the Italian even claimed he did not know how to mark at corners to avoid defensive work.
Balotelli spent the 2014-2015 campaign at Anfield and started only 10 Premier League matches before being shipped back to San Siro on a season-long loan.
Gerrard, now with LA Galaxy, felt uneasy about Balotelli’s arrival from the start after Jose Mourinho had branded him “unmanageable” following their dealings at Inter.
The 25-year-old failed to assuage the former England international’s fears, with the alarm bells ringing from his very first training session.
Writing in his autobiography, which is being serialised in The Daily Mail, Gerrard said: “I had seen a staggering number of new signings walk into the Liverpool training ground.
“I watched every single one of their first training sessions with close attention, wondering whether we’d bought a star or another dud, a king or a prat, a Xabi Alonso or an El Hadji Diouf, a Luis Suarez or a Mario Balotelli.
“In my last season, Brendan Rodgers came to me at Melwood one day in mid-August. We had a chat on the training pitch. He said, ‘You know we’ve missed out on a couple of signings. I’m basically left with no option but to have a bit of a gamble.’
Brendan paused before he spoke again: ‘The gamble is Mario Balotelli.’ My instant reaction was, ‘Uh-oh.’
“I’d never met Balotelli but I’d heard all the stories about the indoor fireworks and Jose Mourinho describing him as an ‘unmanageable’ player. I could see that, in the right mood, he was a quality footballer but the rest of his career seemed like a spectacular waste of talent. That was my opinion of Balotelli.
“But I also had to admit that, when he played for Italy, he seemed able to switch on his gift like he was snapping on a bright light. Brendan implied that Balotelli didn’t have anywhere else to go – and it seemed as if Liverpool would be Balotelli’s last chance to shine at a major club. He would be offered a strict contract. Any bad behaviour would be punished.
“I reminded myself that I had always allowed every new player to come into the club with a clean slate. Balotelli’s reputation tested that resolve but I tried my best to be open-minded. He made an immediate impression when we were doing work on our defensive set-pieces and Balotelli said to Brendan: ‘I don’t mark on corners. I can’t.’
“I nearly fell into the goalpost. I was thinking, ‘What are you? Six foot three, and one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen on a football pitch? And you can’t mark on a corner?’
“Brendan was very firm. He said to Balotelli: ‘Well, you can now – and if you can’t then you’re going to learn.’ That was the first conflict between Brendan and Balotelli, on day one, but the manager stood up to Mario really well. From that point, Balotelli started marking on corners.
“I knew that Balotelli would simply not put in the work we needed from a lone striker. Away to Basel in the Champions League, Balotelli started the game and he was hopeless. After his promising debut against Tottenham he had lapsed in training and the subsequent games. His demeanour was very poor. I made up my mind pretty quickly after that about Balotelli.
“There was no friction between us but I could see Mourinho had been right when he said Balotelli is unmanageable.
“He is very talented with the potential to be world class, but he’ll never get there because of his mentality and the people around him. Balotelli’s always late, he always wants attention, he says the wrong things on social media.
“For me, he doesn’t work hard enough on a daily basis. You’re always fighting a losing battle with Balotelli. He does too many things wrong.”
Gerrard also branded Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez “stupid” for selling Alonso to the Santiago Bernabeu side while he was still in his prime.
The 35-year-old said: “It was clear Alonso was royalty after our first training session together in August 2004, and Rafa Benitez, who had been so clever to buy him in the first place, was equally stupid to sell him to Real Madrid five years later. He was, by some distance, the best central midfielder I ever played alongside.
“It was a disastrous decision to sell Alonso, and especially for just £30million – which looks a snip now when you reflect on all he has achieved subsequently, both at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and with Spain, winning the Euros and the World Cup. I blame Rafa entirely for the loss of Alonso. He could still have been playing for Liverpool six or seven years after he left in 2009.”