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English Premier League in focus: Liverpool 'gamble' Balotelli debuts against Tottenham


Liverpool's English midfielder Steven Gerrard (C) celebrates scoring a penalty with Italian striker Mario Balotelli (L) and English striker Daniel Sturridge (R) during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane in London. Photo - Olly Greenwood/AFP

The £1billion and counting PR project that has helped put Abu Dhabi on the map by transforming Manchester City into a Premier League powerhouse is managed to the nth degree. 

No deal is signed off or press release issued without the approval of the executive board members based in the capital of the UAE. Take the opening in March 2011 of the City store in Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall – the regions's first stand-alone store of a Premier League team – as an example. 

The cutting of the ribbon was delayed by several weeks because senior club officials, quite rightly, wanted one of the club's international stars to fly over from Manchester and wield the scissors at the grand opening. 

The trouble was Roberto Mancini's squad were embroiled in the process of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time and on the cusp of ending their 35-year wait for a trophy by winning the FA Cup. He couldn't really justify excusing one of his top performers from training for a 13-hour round trip to Abu Dhabi, even if most of the players would have fallen over themselves for some winter sun and a stay at Emirates Palace. It was the sort of gig tailor made for an injured player. 

The trouble was virtually all of Mancini's troops were fully fit. With the exception of Mario Balotelli, that is, who was sidelined with a knee problem. He'd be perfect, surely. "We are not having him here [in Abu Dhabi]," a senior club official told me. 

And they didn't have the enfant terrible there, instead opting to bide their time before sending over the mild-mannered Adam Johnson, the England winger. Eventually Balotelli and his madcap behaviour could no longer be tolerated in Manchester, a series of clashes with his team-mates, the manager and an 11-match suspension resulted him in being packed off back to Italy, to AC Milan. 

But for all the well-worn tales of him donating money to homeless people, driving into a women's prison, setting off fireworks in his own home and bizarre shopping trips, it is easy to forget the telling contribution he made to the club's finest hour and arguably the most dramatic finale in the storied history of English league football.



Sergio Aguero (or 'Agueroooo' as TV commentator Martin Tyler famously exclaimed) will go down in the annals as the man who won City their first title in 44 years with the last gasp of all last gasp goals, but who was it who teed him up with the deftest of touches? What's that, the man who six games earlier had been sent off in disgrace at Arsenal and never looked like he would play for City again, you say? Yes, the very one. The man who had earlier picked a fight with the dismissed Joey Barton as the QPR midfielder walked off in disgrace then morphed into the second calmest man on the field (no-one was cooler than Aguero on that barmy day) to poke the ball into the path of Aguero with one languid touch of his dextrous, extended right foot.
 
Aguero did the rest with a clinical piece of finishing that will live long in the memory but wouldn't it have been even more thrilling had the Argentine gone down under the challenge of Nedum Onuoha, as he was entitled to, and Balotelli, the nominated penalty taker, been provided with the chance to win the league from the spot. That surely would have stretched the credibility of even the most imaginative script writer. 

The next chapter in Balotelli's story book (some would say comic book) career will be played out at Liverpool and Anfield could be the perfect place for his mercurial talent to be harnessed. Manager Brendan Rodgers has unlocked the potential of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Countinho since he replaced Roy Hodgson at Anfield, although the Irishman may well need Balotelli to spend a bit of time on the couch of sports psychiatrist Steve Peters. 

The 24-year-old had a troubled upbringing, a combination of a chronic intestinal condition and being abandoned by his Ghanian parents who gave him up for adoption. He has now been welcomed into the bosom of the Liverpool family.

With Shane Long being transferred to Southampton for £12 million, Ross McCormack moving to Fulham for £11 million and Fabio Borrini the subject of a £14 million bid from Sunderland, the 33-cap Italian striker represents excellent value for money at £16 million. The replacement for Luis Suarez, time will tell if Liverpool have bitten off more than they can chew by signing a player Jose Mourinho said he could write a 200-page book on from their two-year spell together at Inter Milan. "The book would not be a drama," said Mourinho. "It would be a comedy."

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