Mario Balotelli showed 'disrespect' during penalty, says Steven Gerrard
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard accused Mario Balotelli of 'showing disrespect' to stand-in skipper Jordan Henderson as he insisted on taking the penalty that secured his side a valuable 1-0 victory in the first leg of their Europa League clash with Besiktas.
Gerrard, who missed the game through injury, confirmed Henderson was the designated penalty taker for the Reds and yet it was Balotelli who wrestled the ball from the grasp of the England midfielder to take the spot kick.
Daniel Sturridge was among those who urged Henderson to stand-up to Balotelli and insist on taking the penalty, but the Italian asserted his authority and duly dispatched the crucial kick in front of the Anfield Kop.
While the final outcome was a Liverpool victory and a successful Balotelli penalty, Gerrard was not impressed with the attitude of the match-winner and made his feelings clear as he spoke to ITV Sport.
"Jordan is the captain and Mario would have seen that Jordan was on penalties and he has shown him a but of disrespect there, but he we have got away with it," said Gerrard. "If I was on the pitch, I'd have taken the penalty, that's what would have happened. Basically Jordan Henderson should have taken that penalty and Mario has been a bit mischievous by standing in front of him and going against the manager's plan.
"Fair play to him, he finished the penalty off, but it would have been very interesting in that dressing room if he had missed the penalty. It's a fantastic penalty, it's a big goal and fair play to him, but it's more than that.
"Around six or seven people in the team would have wanted to take that penalty, so what happens if six or seven people are fighting over the ball around the penalty spot.
"It's not nice to see players taking the ball off each other on a penalty. For me, rules are rules and codes are codes inside a dressing room. When a manager selects a penalty taker, that penalty taker should take it. It should have been Henderson.
"Mario was terrific when he came on and he helped to change the game in Liverpool's favour. With the pressure on his shoulders, he slotted it away very well and it's a big goal for us.
"Jordan handled the situation very well. He knows Mario wants the penalty really badly, Mario is desperate to get on the score sheet. He has stepped away at the right time because I don't like to see it when players are fighting over the ball. It's not right for the image of the game.
"At the end of the day, what's important for myself and all the fans here is we got the win and it has put us in a very good position for next week."
Balotelli went to Instagram and thanked Henderson for the opportunity to take the shot:
The striker followed it up with a post on Twitter thanking fans:
And .. Thank all of you supporters . Thanks with all my heart. You are great. Now let's think about sunday match��- Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) February 19, 2015
Henderson offered a dignified response as he offered his views on the contentious penalty incident. "I wanted the penalty, but Mario wanted it as well," he said.
"He felt confident and he has taken big penalties before and it was a great penalty in the end. Everyone wants to be taking one, but Mario has taken big penalties before and he got the nod.
"It was a big goal. We kept the ball well and times and didn't have too many chances, but keeping a clean sheet and scoring is important for us. We have to go there with the same mentality we had when we got to Turkey for the second leg."
Manager Brendan Rodgers joked that his sidelined skipper ought to have taken the penalty but remained diplomatic about the incident.
"Steven should have took it," he said in a news conference. "Steven is our penalty taker. We got the win which is the most important factor. I have a number of outstanding penalty takers with Jordan and Mario and Rickie Lambert. To get the win was excellent."
Asked directly if he could clarify that Henderson was the designated penalty taker in Gerrard's absence, Rodgers replied: "I am clarifying we won the game 1-0."
As for the game as a whole, Rodgers said he was satisfied with his side's solid performance against difficult opposition.
"It was an excellent result and performance and it was always going to be a tight game," he said. "I believe Besiktas have scored in every away game so it shows our defensive organisation we kept a clean sheet.
"Simon [Mignolet] had an outstanding save in the first half. We created chances and moved the ball quicker in the second half. It was the perfect result and sets up for the second leg next week."
Besiktas boss Slaven Bilic was disappointed his side could not hold out but he was far from downbeat.
"Of course when you concede a late penalty, late goal, you are gutted and from our point of view it wouldn't have been unfair if it finished 0-0 or 1-1," he said. "We deserved a bit more but from their side they deserved maybe the one goal.
"From the bench they had really class players like Balotelli and [Raheem] Sterling. It is a game of two legs. We definitely have a chance at home in one week's time to go through."
Information from Richard Jolly and Press Association was used in this report.