Balotelli's Back: Striker returns to spotlight with big goal
Feb. 11, 2015
Scoring a first English Premier League goal for your club to win a crucial match against one of your big rivals would arouse outward feelings of relief and elation in most players.
Not Mario Balotelli.
With Anfield rocking and his teammates jumping all over him, the enigmatic Italian looked to the ground and remained stony-faced after scoring a late winner for Liverpool in its 3-2 victory over Tottenham on Tuesday. At the final whistle, as Liverpool's players celebrated in front of their fans, Balotelli walked quickly down the tunnel.
Balotelli never celebrates his goals — "I'm doing my job. When the postman delivers your letter, does he celebrate?" he said in 2012 — yet after seven months and 13 league game without scoring, he must have been tempted to break out into a smile.
It was the simplest of goals, a close-range finish from Adam Lallana's low cross, but a crucial one for Liverpool's hopes of returning to the Champions League next season — and maybe for Balotelli's chances of staying at the club beyond this summer.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has openly acknowledged that Balotelli's languid style and lack of movement doesn't fit into the Liverpool way. Balotelli hasn't started a match since Nov. 8, and hasn't even made the bench sometimes. Liverpool's pursuit of Burnley striker Danny Ings during the winter transfer window raised even more doubts about Balotelli's future.
His goal against Spurs, however, might make Rodgers think again about Balotelli's usefulness until the end of the season. And a few more goals will start getting the Anfield crowd back on Balotelli's side.
"He needs to keep working hard, because when he works hard, and comes on like that, the fans warm to him, and people react to him," Lallana said of Balotelli. "He can score goals.
"He needs to keep working hard, and I'm sure the goals will keep coming."
Hours after the game, Balotelli tweeted a picture of himself smiling, with the message: "This smile is ONLY for those that always (believe) and support me."
Liverpool fans had basically given up on the striker, disillusioned with his work rate and preferring the more harrying style of fellow forwards Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. Balotelli raised the ire of many supporters by swapping jerseys with Real Madrid defender Pepe as they walked off for halftime in a Champions League game at Anfield.
Balotelli's long-term future at Liverpool remains unsure, but at least he'll be happy to have shown he hasn't lost the knack of scoring goals.