Less than three weeks have passed since Brendan Rodgers said “categorically” that Liverpool would not sign Mario Balotelli. Just a few days earlier, the Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani had stated with “99.9%” certainty that the player would stay where he was. In football’s transfer window it is not the boys who cry wolf that fans need to worry about, but the ones who insist nothing is happening at all.

Balotelli is not yet a Liverpool player, but all indications are that he may become one very soon. Negotiations between the Premier League club and Milan were progressing on Thursday afternoon, and the striker told Sky Italia that it had been his final day training with the Rossoneri.

Perhaps we ought to have seen this one coming. Galliani made an identical estimation regarding the futures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in the summer of 2012, just days before selling both players to Paris Saint-Germain. Six months later, he told reporters that there was a 99.5% chance that he would fall short in his attempts to sign Balotelli from Manchester City.

If anyone believed his claim about the same player’s future this summer, it was only because the list of potential suitors appeared to be so short. Balotelli’s agent, Mino Raiola, told reporters that there were eight to 10 clubs in the world who could afford his client. He singled out Arsenal as one of them, only for the Gunners to sign Alexis Sánchez instead.

Europe’s richest clubs seemed to have different targets in mind. Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all reinforced their attacks without turning Balotelli’s way. Liverpool had both the funds and a vacancy up front after selling Luis Suárez, but Rodgers’s denial seemed to have taken them out the running.

Milan are reported to be seeking just £16m for Balotelli – barely £4m more than Southampton paid for Shane Long. For a 24-year-old striker with 33 Italy caps and 31 Champions League appearances under his belt, that seems like an absolute steal.

Then again, Milan’s supporters thought much the same thing when Balotelli joined their club from City for a similar fee back in 2013. The transfer was described at the time as one of Galliani’s greatest coups, going some way toward healing the wounds caused by the sales of Ibrahimovic and Silva.

For four months Balotelli was brilliant – scoring twice on his debut and 10 more times over the next 12 games as he dragged a struggling Milan side back into the Champions League places. Playing for the club he had supported as a boy, he seemed to be in his element.

“I’m home,” he said during an interview with Sports Illustrated over the summer. “I’m usually with my family. I’m relaxed. My friends, they can come. It’s not like in Manchester.”

The moment would not last. Milan made a miserable start to the 2013-14 season, winning just four of their first 17 games. Balotelli missed the first penalty of his career during a defeat to Napoli in September, before scoring a spectacular consolation goal and then getting himself sent off for dissent.

It was a match that set a tone for his whole season. Balotelli went on to score 14 times in 30 games for Milan – a respectable return by most players’ standards – but struggled to keep a lid on his emotions. He missed another penalty two months later, this one pushed tamely down the middle at Genoa’s Mattia Perin, and racked up nine yellow cards by the end of the season.

After coaching Suárez through the last two extraordinary seasons, Rodgers might feel confident in his ability to work with a gifted striker weighed down by a tempestuous personality. Both players featured in France Football’s list of the sport’s 50 greatest bad boys published in February this year.

But the manager would do well to recognise the differences between the two. Suárez, for all his obvious faults, is a ferocious competitor whose worst indiscretions have typically been motivated by a desire to gain an on-field advantage over an opponent – through any means necessary. Rarely could he be accused of drifting through games as Balotelli did often for Milan last season, allowing himself to be overwhelmed by frustration at decisions that went against him.

On the other hand there are good reasons to believe that a change of scenery may do the latter player some good. The weight of expectation on Balotelli in Italy has been extraordinary, and not just in footballing terms.

From the moment he burst on to the scene as a teenager he has been held up as the face of a new multicultural Italy – a figurehead in a battle against racism so endemic that the incoming head of the Italian Football Federation thought it appropriate this summer to allegedly make an off-hand remark about “banana-eaters” flooding the league.

Even that is only the tip of the iceberg. When Italy travelled to play a friendly on a pitch reclaimed from the Camorra last year, Balotelli was heralded in some papers as a figurehead against organised crime. When he objected to that label on Twitter – stating that he was only out to prove that “soccer is wonderful” – a number of commentators rounded on him, accusing him of speaking irresponsibly.

In Liverpool, Balotelli has an opportunity to get back to being a footballer and nothing more. The question is whether he will take it.