By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) - Having just waved goodbye to a player who constantly courted controversy, Liverpool rolled out the welcome mat to Mario Balotelli on Monday, whose maverick if inconsistent talent is perhaps only rivaled by his ability to cause mischief.
Following the departure of Luis Suarez on the back of a third suspension for sinking his teeth into an opponent, the man Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has chosen to add bite to his forward line has his own lengthy charge sheet of misdemeanors.
The Italy international has all the natural attributes you could wish for in a center forward, with searing pace, power, a delicate touch, acute vision and a knack for attempting the improbable and producing the goods on the big occasions.
Yet the former Manchester City forward who left AC Milan for Anfield for a speculated fee of 16 million pounds is no stranger to controversy.
His 2-1/2-year spell at Manchester City was noted for training ground flare ups with colleagues including a well-documented confrontation with former boss Roberto Mancini when the pair had to be pulled apart.
Yet he is better known for some off-the-wall acts of brainless stupidity such as setting his house ablaze by allowing fireworks to be let off in the bathroom.
He also visited a women's prison just "to have a look round", went on TV in an AC Milan shirt while playing for rivals Inter and threw a dart at a Manchester City youth team player as a prank.
In isolation, these incidents could be funny. As it is, their volume and frequency suggest Balotelli could be a high-maintenance personality on Merseyside.
The question for Liverpool fans is, will he be worth the potential hassle and media scrutiny that they thought had ended when Uruguay forward Suarez packed his bags for Barcelona?
His reported transfer fee is comparatively little for a 24-year-old player with his skillset, when you consider the high amounts being paid in this transfer window for many lesser lights.
His goal record at AC Milan was relatively impressive with a the striker finding the net 26 times in 37 league starts, while at City he had a record of 20 in 33.
Yet for a player whose fiery antics led to four red cards in his short spell in England, he can also give the impression of being disinterested and failing to muck in for the greater good.
Liverpool manager Rodgers hailed his attributes earlier in the close-season when his side faced Milan in a friendly in the United States.
"Balotelli is a big talent," Rodgers said. "I saw that in his time at Inter Milan as a young player and obviously going to Manchester City when we had a real close eye on him there.
"He's got all the qualities. He's 6ft 3ins, he's quick, his touch is terrific and he can score goals.
"He went back to Italy to play and he's still so young. If his focus is right, his concentration is right and he leads the lifestyle of a top player then he can play for any team in the world."
The Liverpool boss must feel that he can coax the good out of Balotelli and has perhaps been influenced by reports of a softer side.
The striker's bizarre back story includes tales of genuine generosity such as when he walked into a university library and paid off all the students' fines and when he arrived at a petrol station and paid for full tanks for everyone.
As well as the time he put numerous homeless people up in a Manchester hotel for a night.
These acts did not go unnoticed by Rodgers when he was manager of Swansea City in 2012.
"It sounds like there's a heart of gold in there, and that's why they (Manchester City) persist with him and persevere. Some players are rascals, but they can be good rascals," Rodgers said.
"If they are not the good kind you have a problem, but you can put up with it if they are — and as long as you do not have too many of them in your squad."
Liverpool's current squad is filled with youthful exuberance and attacking vigor as well as a genuine sense of togetherness after last season's second-place finish.
If they are to challenge for the title again this season, Balotelli, like Suarez, will have to sacrifice the ego and be as big a headache for opposing defenders as he has been for his previous managers.
(Reporting by Toby Davis,; editing by Pritha Sarkar)