Brendan Rodgers: Mario Balotelli Liverpool future 'remains to be seen'

LIVERPOOL -- Brendan Rodgers has refused to guarantee Mario Balotelli's long-term future at Liverpool -- even though the striker is only two months into a three-year contract.

The Italy striker has made a poor start to his Anfield career since arriving from AC Milan for 16 million pounds in August.

Balotelli has scored only once in 10 appearances for the Reds so far, and was taken off at half-time as they were beaten 3-0 at home by Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The striker was criticised publicly by Rodgers for swapping shirts with Real defender Pepe as the players walked off at the interval.

And asked about Balotelli's long-term Anfield future, Rodgers replied: "We'll see how that works out for him."

Rodgers refused to reveal what disciplinary action will be taken against the 24-year-old over the shirt-swapping incident, saying: "Any action we take, we'll keep to ourselves. We've had a conversation on the culture in this country, and in particular at Liverpool, and that was it -- the matter closed."

But he acknowledged that the striker must face up to public criticism after a series of indifferent performances for Liverpool.

The manager said: "I think there'll be that [criticism], of course. It's something will happen maybe if you aren't scoring or the team aren't playing well.

"Whether the criticism is deserved or not, it's a part of the game, and you have to accept it. No one likes it, however it comes, but as an individual, as a team and as a coach, you have to accept that.

"It's one where the boy is genuinely trying very, very hard. Longer term, we'll see how that works out for him. Certainly, he is working hard 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 as a manager. Whether that best is going to be good enough in the longer term, that remains to be seen. But that's the same for every player, not just for Mario."

Balotelli was once described as "unmanageable" by Jose Mourinho, his boss at Inter Milan, but Rodgers insists he has no problems with the striker's eccentricities -- as long as he works hard.

Rodgers continued: "I like players who are different. People talk to me about colours of boots and hair. I like that individual personality in people -- as long as they don't see themselves as individuals. That's the important thing.

"They have to fit into the parameters of the team, and over the longer term, if they don't, then it can be difficult for them to work the way we do here. But he's working hard and doing his best at the moment."

Rodgers, though, did appear irritated by the level of attention given to Balotelli at a news conference on Thursday, ahead of Saturday's Premier League home match against Hull.

Four of the first five questions put to the manager were about the striker, prompting him to respond: "Is this the Mario Balotelli press conference? Listen, he's like every other player. He wants to score goals, and at the moment, he's not.

"Hard work will improve your confidence. And when your confidence improves, you have more success. It's as simple as that."

Rodgers is aware that Balotelli's poor form cannot be held as the sole reason for Liverpool's inconsistent start to the season.

The Reds have kept only one clean sheet this term, and their shaky defending at set-pieces was an issue again on Wednesday -- leading to two of Real's three goals.

Rodgers said: "Any blame that's given towards any individual will be taken as a collective, because we're very much one. From us, it certainly won't be focused on to one player."

And the manager insisted that his team have to be more "competitive" when it comes to defending corners and free-kicks.

He added: "We need to work harder at making it better. Last night we lost two soft goals, one in the first phase and one in the second phase of those set-pieces.

"It's not a clever move from a corner that's beaten us. It's been a simple ball into the box and we haven't defended it, either through the first contact, or through letting people come across us.

"So we need to reinforce key principles in our organisation. And it's then about the players on the field showing that competitive spirit. The great competitors don't get done so easily in those situations.

"That's something we need to improve on. The goals we conceded in those moments were soft, and we have to be better."