Last night Mario Balotelli broke one of the biggest taboos in football.
Taking the ball from Jordan Henderson to convert the decisive penalty against Besiktas on Thursday night may have resulted in Liverpool winning the game but it appears the Italian overruled his captain on the night. Steven Gerrard, who missed the game through injury, effectively threw the Italian under the bus after the match, declaring his teammate's actions were "disrespectful".
So often a scapegoat this season, the former Manchester City striker can't even score a winning goal without dividing opinion. Is Mario in the right this time around, or has his latest controversy further undermined his future on Merseyside?
The case for Mario
A trademark of Balotelli's chequered career is his usually unerring accuracy from 12 yards. In his professional career he netted his first 26 penalties in a row and has missed from the spot just twice, both in the second half of 2013 while at Milan. His conversion rate remains one of the best in Europe and in the absence of the similarly ruthless Steven Gerrard, the question as to who should take responsibility for an 85<sup>th minute penalty should have been a no brainer.
While doing his best to appear unhinged at times, Balotelli's remarkably calm approach to penalties has seen him convert in the most tense of scenarios. A last minute winner against Tottenham to seal a 3-2 win in 2013, another late effort on his Milan debut and Italy's first in their Euro 2012 shootout with England are just a few. He never missed one for Inter, Man City and now Liverpool.
If Balotelli wasn't Liverpool's first choice penalty take in the absence of Gerrard, then that is a bigger problem. Speaking in August, the Liverpool captain was all for the ice cold Balotelli deputising for him from the spot. "I'm aware he is a terrific penalty taker. I am sure he'll get the chance to take some penalties for the club. The manager's told me if I'm not on the pitch he'll take them." What's changed?
The case against Mario
While Balotelli's accuracy from the spot is undoubted, overruling his captain and his manager will draw serious consequences, regardless of him finding the back of the net. Jordan Henderson immediately taking the ball after Jordon Ibe was fouled suggests he was told by his manager prior to the game that he would be responsible for penalty kicks. The Liverpool vice-captain does not have the inflated ego required to demand it himself without his manager's say so, and given Brendan Rodgers fastidious, is doubtful he didn't address the matter head on as soon as Gerrard was ruled out.
While Balotelli is justified in demanding to be top of the penalty takers list, defying such orders in front of 45,000 people in a European tie carries its own inherent risks. The reaction to the incident last night and this morning echoes the backlash Kevin Mirallas came in for when he took responsibility for Everton's spot kick ahead of regular taker Leighton Baines against West Brom in January. The Belgian missed. Balotelli didn't. The only difference was the Belgian was wrong while the Italian was right just because he scored on the night.