Steven Gerrard and Mario Balotelli are men with two very different reputations, but recent events prove that this is the result of Gerrard’s concerted efforts to distract from his own misdeeds.
Ever since Balotelli first went to England, he has been the subject of fantastical stories. And though the 24-year-old Italian definitely has a mischievous streak of his own, one must ask if explicitly dangerous activities like setting off fireworks in the bathroom of a rented house full of people and throwing darts at youth team players are more likely to be perpetrated by a man who adopts dogs in his spare time or one who punches nightclub DJs for not playing Phil Collins and gets sent off against Manchester United after just 38 seconds for a deliberate stamp on an opponent.
Gerrard’s attempts to frame Balotelli have continued since he pulled the strings that brought the striker to Liverpool this season after a relatively quiet spell with AC Milan (outside of Gerrard’s treacherous reach). He publicly labeled Mario as “disrespectful” to Jordan Henderson for demanding to take the winning penalty in a Europa League match over the captain for the night, even though Mario was the designated penalty taker in Gerrard’s absence.
Fully realizing the former England captain’s power, Balotelli has only been able to drop vague hints at the conspiracy being perpetrated against him. While with Man City, he famously revealed his “Why always me?” undershirt — a question intended for Gerrard himself as he wondered why he was being continuously posed as the villain that Gerrard truly is.
More recently, Balotelli has taken to posting Instagram videos that hint more directly at Gerrard’s scheme. In the first, he asks, “Do you know me? Did you ever talk to me personally? Do you know what I been through in my life?” and then tells his unnamed critic, “Man, shut up!”
Clearly this was directed at Gerrard, who criticized him on television after that Europa League penalty and has never taken the time to get to know his teammate.
In his second, which was posted the night before Sunday’s match and quickly deleted, Balotelli ominously stated two facts, saying, “I support Liverpool. No matter what, I support Liverpool. Especially tomorrow. But remember, I do what I want. I do what I want. And remember…yes? No? Yes? Cool.”
This makes it obvious that Balotelli knew that Gerrard would pull another stunt during the match, given its importance, and wanted to make his own intentions clear before they could be muddled. But he still feared repercussions.
Perhaps embittered by Brendan Rodgers’ refusal to start him in his final match against Manchester United before moving on to Los Angeles, Gerrard came on at halftime with Liverpool down 1-0, taking the captain’s armband from Henderson. He then intentionally stamped on Ander Herrera and was sent off in just 38 seconds, literally throwing the armband back to Henderson as he walked off, leaving Liverpool in an even worse position than when he came on.
Of course, this put an intensely negative focus on Gerrard — one that was conveniently softened a bit when Chris Smalling (Gerrard’s former England teammate) instigated a confrontation with Mario Balotelli, who was saved from the red card entrapment by several Liverpool fans who held him back.
Foiled in his plot to share the spotlight with Balotelli, Gerrard promptly apologized for his action after the match (but not to the man he stamped on), bringing him praise and a degree of absolution…even though his true message had still been sent.
So while Gerrard is “slipping” and stamping and punching and sniping, he retains his predominantly good image, with pundits lining up to declare his legacy safe from being tarnished. And Balotelli remains the uncontrollable wild man who gets harshly criticized and prevents Gerrard’s (known) misdeeds from looking too outlandish.
But the question remains…just where was Steven Gerrard the night Balotelli’s “friend” set his bathroom on fire?