Rickie Lambert has opened up about his time with Mario Balotelli at Liverpool and says he was left baffled why the Italian was picked ahead of him.
Lambert joined his boyhood heroes in the summer of 2014 after playing the best football of his career at Southampton, his record of 106 goals in 2017 games helping him win 11 caps for England.
Balotelli, despite a reputation of being difficult to manage, was brought in that same summer as Brendan Rodgers tried to find solutions for the loss of superstar Luis Suarez to Barcelona.
But it didn’t work. Lambert and Balotelli shared just seven goals between them in the 2014-15 campaign as the Reds finished sixth, a massive 25 points behind title winners Chelsea.
Both players were moved on the following season.
While admitting that living the dream was fun for a while, Lambert says Suarez’s shoes were too big to fill and the presence of Balotelli unsettled him further as the Italian’s poor habits were indulged by Rodgers.
“It was great,” he told Bristol Live. “I returned to my home city as a different person than when I left. I was a lot more professional of course. And it went okay at first, I scored a couple and was quite happy.
“But I could tell that the players were all shocked at losing Luis Suarez, and how much of their game revolved around him. I was never going to replace someone like that, was I? Going in after him was hard, very hard.
“And then Brendan Rodgers brought in Mario Balotelli and put him in ahead of me, and it done my head in to be honest. I couldn’t understand.
“The way he used to train was a disgrace. Off the training pitch he’s quite infectious, a lovely lad. But his persona on the training pitch is not good.
“When he played he did try, and I have come across players with that attitude before, but they are usually good enough to get away with it, but he wasn’t.
“I just didn’t understand how Rodgers was letting him get away with it, and picking him ahead of me. It affected me directly, but it had a negative impact on the team.”
Lambert, who retired from football in October 2017, said he still carried a few regrets about his time at Anfield.
“If I am being honest I know I didn’t do good enough at Liverpool. I wasn’t ruthless enough with the chances I was given, and it wasn’t a good time,” he said.
“And pretty early on Rodgers tried to get rid of me to Crystal Palace where [Alan] Pardew was, so I knew I wasn’t ever going to be top priority.
“I said no immediately, why would I leave a club like Southampton after several years to come to Liverpool and leave after several weeks to go to Palace?
“After that I was in shock, and I didn’t get selected for about three months I think. I didn’t come off the bench, I didn’t touch a ball the whole time.
“But it was amazing to join an amazing club, and despite all that Rodgers was actually a brilliant manager, so it was all set up for me to succeed, but I was devastated not to be able to maximise my stay.
“I am disappointed, but I am grateful I was ever able to put on the Liverpool shirt. I will be proud of that until the day I die.”