It was suggested during the January transfer window, just a few months into his career at Anfield, that Mario Balotelli would be deemed surplus to requirements by Liverpool and allowed to seek a new challenge elsewhere.
He was, however, allowed to stay put and see out the season.
Fast forward to the dawn of a new window and speculation has once again been building regarding a potential departure for the enigmatic Italian.
It has to be noted, though, that none of the noises – in the winter or summer – have been emanating from the corridors of power on Merseyside.
Brendan Rodgers, to his credit, has steadfastly stood by Balotelli and maintained throughout that he can be a useful option for the Reds. He just needs that spark to get him going.
That remains the case heading into 2015/16, but it still makes a lot of sense for Liverpool to keep him around.
Last season, while he may boast past experience of life in the Premier League from his time at Manchester City, Balotelli found himself under the microscope from the moment he signed.
Being snapped up in the wake of Luis Suarez’s departure to Barcelona was never going to do him any favours, with there an expectation that a man who has never been prolific would help to fill a 30-goal void.
Daniel Sturridge’s injury struggles also hampered his cause, with there no-one around to help shoulder the added responsibility or to paper over the cracks when confidence started to sap and performance levels began to dip.
This time around, Liverpool have already moved to bring in Danny Ings at the end of his contract at Burnley – and he is more of an out-and-out goalscorer, the much sought-after fox in the box.
If he plays as more of a typical ‘number 9’, then Sturridge, Balotelli and another new boy – Roberto Firmino – will be free to drift deep and wide and attempt to influence play from positions which do not require them to stick the ball in the back of the net.
A potential departure for Raheem Sterling may also play into Balotelli’s hands, as there will be an attacking post up for grabs that is not down the middle and scrutinised on a weekly basis.
Who is to say that in a 3-4-3 formation, or any variation of that, that the 24-year-old could not shine, and almost reinvent himself, as a winger-come-forward?
Thanks to Liverpool fans for this year …. I m loading for next season.
— Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) May 25, 2015
He may be chastised at times for an apparent lack of effort, but none of Liverpool’s attacking crop from last season – Sterling included – made more tackles or recovered the ball on more occasions than Balotelli.
If Rodgers could ease his goalscoring burden and make more of his playmaking qualities, then a marked increase in his chance created numbers would be expected – with no assists registered in 2014/15.
Liverpool certainly need to find a way of getting more out of what they have, with football betting markets still considering them to be outsiders in the battle for a top-four finish in the Premier League, but in Balotelli they have a player young enough and talented enough to be moulded into whatever they want him to be.
Now is not the time to be cutting their losses, with there no guarantee that investment elsewhere will deliver immediate results, and if Sterling were to leave for big money, those funds could be invested elsewhere – right-back, centre-half, midfield etc. – and pave the way for a man already on their books to prove that he can still make good on the faith and patience shown in him.