By Merseyside correpondent Cam Downes
Mario Balotelli will never be world class because he does not work hard enough, according to Steven Gerrard.
The Liverpool icon says his controversial former team-mate “can be endearing sometimes” but he is basically unmanageable.
Writing in his new autobiography, which is being serialised by Mail Online, Gerrard said of Balotelli: “I have a small hope that, one day, his career might work out and he can prove his potential on a regular basis. 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. I could see [Jose] Mourinho was right when he said Balotelli is unmanageable.”
Gerrard revealed how he learned that Brendan Rodgers had decided to gamble on signing Balotelli from Milan in the summer of 2014.
“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.”
Gerrard explained his reservations about Balotelli, who has subsequently re-joined Milan on a season-long loan.
“I told Brendan that, up close to him on the pitch, you could see that he was a big, powerful guy. Brendan must have sensed my underlying reservations because he spoke a little more about why he thought it could be worth the risk. 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.”