• Milan accept £16m fee from Liverpool for striker
• Rodgers wants assurances on player’s future conduct
Mario Balotelli is poised to make a remarkable return to English football providing he agrees a Liverpool contract with several stringent clauses regarding his behaviour. Brendan Rodgers, who categorically stated he had no interest in the problematic striker less than three weeks ago, performed the volte-face after concluding Milan’s £16m asking price was too tempting to refuse.
Balotelli’s agent, Mino Raiola, travelled to Merseyside for further talks with Liverpool’s chief executive, Ian Ayre, on Thursday after Milan accepted a £16m bid for the 24-year-old. The Italian club quoted an exorbitant loan fee when Liverpool made their initial approach on Wednesday and rejected a proposal that the temporary deal could be terminated should Balotelli step out of line.
A permanent deal was then proposed to suit all parties, with Milan desperate to sell the Italy international only 19 months after he joined his boyhood club and Liverpool running out of striking options to replace Luis Suárez before the transfer deadline on 1 September.
Liverpool have the deal in place with Milan and are at an advanced stage in negotiations with Raiola but have to clarify several matters with Balotelli before completing the stunning transfer. Personal terms are one issue, with the forward seeking £160,000-a-week but likely to be offered less by Liverpool. A more pressing concern for Rodgers is protecting the club against any errant behaviour on Balotelli’s part and ensuring the player can work to his standards at Melwood.
The controversial striker has had problems with most managers and clubs during his brief but highly eventful career, from Internazionale under José Mourinho – who once described Balotelli as unmanageable – to long-time confidant Roberto Mancini at Manchester City. He fell out with former national team coach Cesare Prandelli at Euro 2012 and again at this summer’s World Cup.
Balotelli was sent off four times during his two-and-a-half seasons at City and once threatened legal action after being fined two weeks’ wages for missing 11 games through suspension while at the Etihad Stadium. Liverpool accept the striker’s on-field behaviour is unlikely to transform at this stage of his career but are looking to address other problems.
Rodgers – who has placed great store in signing the right characters for his squad and players who will adhere to his elite performance standards at all times – wants assurances from Balotelli about his commitment to training and off-the-field discipline. To that end, Liverpool’s contract offer to Balotelli is expected to include clauses on conduct and behaviour that exceed standard practice. Only if he agrees to the club’s terms and Rodgers’ requirements will the transfer proceed.
Balotelli could make his debut for Liverpool at City in the Premier League on Monday but would have to be registered by noon on Friday and that appears unlikely. The striker is scheduled to travel to Merseyside and to meet the Liverpool manager over the weekend providing negotiations between Ayre and Raiola run smoothly. That appears the expectation of both Balotelli and Milan, with the player quoted as telling Sky Italia: “Today is my last day at Milan”, and the club’s website reporting: “Mario Balotelli left Milanello’s sporting centre at 13.30 (local time), after saying goodbye to his team-mates. Before leaving the premises, the striker has said goodbye to members of Milan’s press office.”
Liverpool view the signing as a calculated risk given Milan’s reduced asking price.
Milan had been seeking around €35m (£28m) for Balotelli earlier in the summer but have resigned themselves to making back the money they paid City in January 2013. That has encouraged the rethink by Liverpool, but there is also no doubt a lack of credible alternatives has changed Rodgers’s stance.
Speaking less than three weeks ago on the club’s pre-season tour of the United States, the Liverpool manager said: “I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool. In my last press conference I was asked a question about Mario Balotelli and I talked about what a talent he was and what an excellent player he was. And the next day it was wrote as if we were signing him. I just gave my perception of him as a player. It shouldn’t be transmitted in to us signing the player.”
Rodgers, however, has seen a proposed £8m move for Loïc Rémy collapse on medical grounds while inquiries for Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani, among others, have not developed. Samuel Eto’o, a free agent since leaving Chelsea in the summer, remains one of the few alternatives available to Liverpool and arguably helps explain the late change of heart on Balotelli.