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Exasperated Rodgers plays down Balotelli incident

Reuters, Thursday 23 Oct 2014
Mario Balotelli
Liverpool's Mario Balotelli gestures during the Champions League group B soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Wednesday Oct. 22, 2014 (Photo: AP)
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 Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers looked exasperated when he asked "Is this the Mario Balotelli press conference?" as he was quizzed on Thursday about the latest headline-grabbing incident involving the Italian.

Rodgers was speaking the day after Liverpool were dismantled 3-0 by Real Madrid in the Champions League and ahead of their Premier League match against Hull City on Saturday.

The immediate focus was on the 25-year-old international striker who has been roundly criticised for swapping his shirt with Real Madrid defender Pepe as the players went off at halftime at Anfield on Wednesday with Liverpool trailing 3-0.

The shirt-swap, which seemed wholly out of place at that point, was caught by TV cameras and provoked a storm largely because Balotelli had given another below-par, disinterested-looking performance and did not reappear for the second half.

"It will be kept among ourselves but we have had a conversation on the culture in this country and in particular at Liverpool," Rodgers told reporters at the club's Melwood training ground.

Asked about the criticism of the Italian, who has scored once in 10 appearances since his 16 million pounds ($25.63 million) move from AC Milan, Rodgers appeared to try to take some pressure off the striker.

"It will happen when the team's not playing well, whether it is deserved or not, that is part of the game," he said of the flak Balotelli was getting.

"You have to accept that. The boy is genuinely trying very, very hard. Longer term we'll see how that works out for him.

"But he is working on the training field to improve his opportunities to play in the team and to score goals. As long as he's doing his best, that's all I can ask for as a coach and a manager," said Rodgers.

"Whether that best is good enough, longer term, remains to be seen. But that's the same for every player, not just for Mario."

Asked whether he thought the striker would get over his difficult patch, Rodgers replied: "Is this the Mario Balotelli press conference?

"He's like every other player, he wants to score goals and obviously at the moment he is not, so hard work will improve your confidence and when you are confident you have more success."

Similar situation

Rodgers had to deal with a similar situation involving a shirt swap between Mamadou Sakho and the then-Chelsea striker Samuel Eto'o in December, and said he was not in favour of it happening until the end of the game.

"It's something I don't like to see, I've seen it happen in other leagues and other countries but it's certainly something that doesn't happen here and shouldn't happen," he added.

"For me, if you want to do that it's something you do at the end of the game."

Turning to other issues, Rodgers said: "As a team we need to be better. We all pride ourselves on clean sheets but we need to be more competitive and more aggressive as a team.

"That was a disappointment from the Real Madrid game. A large number of the goals we conceded have been soft so it is our job to improve our record."

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