Liverpool midfielder and captain Steven Gerrard has urged Reds under-fire striker Mario Balotelli to embrace the challenge of leading the forward line for the Anfield club after promising to make modifications to his own game in a bid to ensure he is more effective for the rest of the season.
Balotelli has not scored an English Premier League goal for Brendan Rodgers’ side since his 16 million pound move from Italian Serie A giants Milan last summer, and Gerrard said that the weight of expectation on his shoulders are a burden he needs to get used to.
“That shirt does weigh heavy,” he told the Daily Mail.
“But so does [my] No.8. So do most of the numbers. With social media and the way the general media has gone there is so much criticism and opinion out there that if the No 9 weighed heavy 10 years ago it weighs even heavier now.”
“To be a main striker at Liverpool you have to expect the pressure and the responsibility and embrace it. Our fans have seen so many quality forwards over the years they expect new ones to be quality in every game. Above everything else you will have to score goals and score them regularly.”
“Look at the ones I have played with — [Robbie] Fowler, [Michael] Owen, [Luis] Suarez, [Fernando] Torres. They have always been consistent with goals and that’s what has made them the superstars they are.”
“It’s too early to get on Mario’s back. He just needs time to score the goals he needs to prove to people he is worthy of staying here. I am not gonna judge him after 10 games.”
“To come in after Suarez was always going to be a big ask and he’s not feeling sorry for himself. He is working hard, doing extra shooting sessions.”
“I’ve actually been impressed the way he goes about his work. You hear all kinds of stories and rumours before you meet him, but he does all the work. I like the guy.”
“Yes, it seems he likes the attention, he likes being the main man up front. He loves the social media and loves talking to supporters and if he wants that at Liverpool you have to score goals. He will know that and if he didn’t know it coming in then he will know it now.”
Balotelli and Gerrard have been among the most criticised performers in Liverpool’s side so far this season, with the latter suggesting he is ready to change his own game to counter-attack tactics designed to restrict his influence on the game.
“It’s been different this season,” conceded Gerrard.
“A couple of teams have set up to man-mark me and stifle me. Against Villa, [Gabriel] Agbonlahor wasn’t remotely interested in the ball or the game, only in following me.”
“The other one was at West Ham, but Sam Allardyce has always done that with me.”
“In those two games, I found it hard to influence things so I’ve had loads of chats with Brendan about how to counter that if it happens, whether it’s by moving out of position or moving further forward into a ’10’ position.”
“We did that in a recent game and it worked really well and my form has actually been a lot better since people started to try and stifle me. I think you will see changes in my game. Brendan and I have worked some things out.”
Meanwhile, Gerrard expressed his amazement that his former Anfield teammate and star striker Suarez failed to make the shortlist for the 2014 World Footballer of the Year award.
“I can’t believe it, but that’s politics in football, isn’t it,” he added.
“He scored 31 goals and was voted best player in the hardest league in the world. So you tell me how he’s not on the Ballon d’Or list. Incredible. He should be fighting Cristiano Ronaldo for it. That’s a fact.”