Former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness has questioned the existence of Mario Balotelli’s “football brain” and believes the misfiring striker has to undergo a personality change to survive at Anfield.
The Italy international was hauled off at half-time against Real Madrid after another lacklustre performance and with his side 3-0 down in their Champions League tie.
He may have compounded the criticism coming his way by swapping shirts with opposing defender Pepe – for which he will be disciplined – but Souness believes manager Brendan Rodgers has a much bigger problem.
“The criticism is for him not showing any enthusiasm,” Souness told Press Association Sport.
“He must do all the training all the other boys do and he looks physically fit and powerful so I am just wondering if he doesn’t have a football brain.
“He is just not seeing the picture of when he should be running in behind centre-halves or when he should be running towards the ball.
“I don’t know whether he has any brain to make the right decision.
“You never watch Mario Balotelli and think ’Wow, he’s put a real stint in’.
“There has to be something more than ’I just can’t be bothered to run around’.”
Souness said the striker’s attitude was at odds with the team ethic but he questioned whether anyone would ever get him to alter his mentality.
“It was a very brave move to take him on because you look at the quality of managers who have tried and given up on him,” added Souness, speaking on behalf of Capital One, credit card company and sponsor of the League Cup.
“Roberto Mancini twice, Jose Mourinho had one look at him and very quickly said ’I can’t work with this guy’, Cesare Prandelli said after the World Cup he made a giant mistake taking him to Brazil.
“What makes you (Rodgers) think you can get something different from him?
“You are talking about a complete sea-change – not just his time at Liverpool but his time at Inter, Milan and Manchester City.
“He has to have a personality change. He is in fantastic shape as a footballer and he is quicker than anyone he gets in a race with but be might not be seeing the picture and that is a hell of a worry.”
Balotelli arrived back in England with a reputation for being an oddball and Souness believes the disruptive element he brings could be damaging for the dressing room.
“This is a 24-year-old man, not a 16-year-old boy. The problem you have with that is you are talking about him too much.
“You ending up spending a lot of your days defending him if you are his manager.
“Anyone would tell you the most important thing in that football club is the group and working collectively.
“If Mario turns up and doesn’t train properly then on match day doesn’t give 100 per cent what a great excuse it is for five players on the fringes who are not playing as much as they think they should be not to give 100 per cent.
“That is the problem you are faced with. You will never have everyone in the whole group happy so within that group if you have a few people who are unhappy they will latch on to that.”
Souness felt there were not big enough characters in the dressing room to exert some peer pressure to bring Balotelli into line
“As a player you could not have been like that in my generation, not just at Liverpool but anywhere because players would not have tolerated it,” said the former Scotland international, who won three European Cups and five league titles at Anfield.
“I don’t see anyone having a moan at players – not just Balotelli – today.
“They don’t dig each other out, it is all left to the coaching staff to deliver the bad news but in my day it was the senior players – on a daily basis until the message was lodged in your head.”
:: Graeme Souness was speaking on behalf of Capital One, credit card company and sponsor of the League Cup.