Cold shoulder for erratic Balotelli

Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers shaking hands with Malaysia XI coach Dollah Saleh (right) at a news conference yesterday, ahead of their friendly match in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rogers shaking hands with Malaysia XI coach Dollah Saleh (right) at a news conference yesterday, ahead of their friendly match in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. PHOTO: REUTERS

Striker's future in his own hands, says Rogers, after Italian attracts interest from Sampdoria

KUALA LUMPUR • As Christian Benteke was set to complete his £32.5 million (S$69.4 million) move from Aston Villa to Liverpool yesterday, Mario Balotelli's Anfield future looked increasingly bleak.

Reds manager Brendan Rodgers yesterday declined to give the Italy striker any assurances as Balotelli remains conspicuously absent from the club's pre-season tour.

Liverpool yesterday arrived in Kuala Lumpur ahead of tomorrow's game against a Malaysia XI.

And Rodgers told a press conference that it is up to Balotelli to decide whether he wants a new challenge amid interest from Serie A side Sampdoria.

"Mario is obviously not on tour but he is working hard and training well with a number of other players at Melwood," said the Northern Irishman, who also left Jose Enrique and Fabio Borini behind.

"I'm not sure (whether he has a future), that will entirely be up to Mario. He is working hard to get fit and we will see (what transpires) when the season begins."

With striker Benteke completing his medical and the addition of forward Roberto Firmino to the Liverpool squad, however, it looks unlikely that Balotelli will add to his 10 Premier League starts with Liverpool any time soon.

The controversial striker has scored just one league goal since his £16 million move from AC Milan.

And the 24-year-old, who has two more years left on his Anfield contract, did little to win over Liverpool fans on Tuesday.

He tweeted a supportive message to Raheem Sterling, who just made an acrimonious exit from Merseyside, following the England international's debut goal for Manchester City against Roma.

"Well done @sterling31! Best answer. Keep it up," the former City striker tweeted.

Rodgers, however, was not keen to dwell too much on Balotelli or entertain questions on whether he would make any more signings.

"I am only interested in talking about players that I currently have here, not about players coming in or going out," he said.

"We're here just to develop the fitness of the players here and help them improve tactically.

"With half a new team coming in, we want to keep improving the dynamic and cohesion of the team. Last season was a disappointment for us.

"We had to ensure we brought in quality to help us improve and we have done that.

"The mentality of the players we signed was very important.

"I'm happy with those we've brought in," he added, referring to James Milner, Danny Ings, Joe Gomez, Adam Bogdan, Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne.

"I've got an inherent belief they can help us push on this season.

"We are very hopeful that we will go on and be competitive this season and challenge on all fronts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'COLD SHOULDER FOR ERRATIC BALOTELLI'. Print Edition | Subscribe