Mario Balotelli has accepted a 50% pay cut to join Liverpool from Milan but the stunning transfer will proceed only if Brendan Rodgers is convinced the Italian striker is willing to develop at Anfield.
The Liverpool manager met Balotelli for the first time after the striker flew into Manchester Airport and underwent the first part of his medical in Manchester on Friday. The second part is scheduled for Saturday and Balotelli could be a Liverpool player on Monday providing Rodgers received the assurances he wanted in their face-to-face meeting.
Uncertainty over the outcome, however, has prompted Liverpool to hold advanced negotiations with Samuel Eto’o in Paris. Anfield officials and medical staff travelled to the French capital on Friday to discuss personal terms with the 33-year-old and to assess his fitness. But Eto’o is viewed as an alternative to Balotelli, not part of a double transfer. The seriousness of Liverpool’s interest in the veteran Cameroon international demonstrates the limited options available to Rodgers in his search for proven talent to replace Luis Suárez, having been frustrated with inquiries for Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani among others.
Barring any reservations on Rodgers’ part, Balotelli will be Liverpool’s final signing of a productive summer. A £16m fee has been agreed with Milan and personal terms have also been resolved following smooth negotiations between the Liverpool chief executive, Ian Ayre, and Balotelli’s agent, Mino Raiola. The striker has accepted a basic £80,000-a-week deal from Liverpool, half what he earns in Italy, with top-ups dependent on a series of stringent behaviour and performance clauses. He has been offered a three-year contract with the option of a fourth belonging solely to Liverpool.
Rodgers refused to discuss Balotelli at a scheduled press conference on Friday to preview Liverpool’s next Premier League game against the Italian’s former club Manchester City, though admitted he would not have taken “a risk” on a player when he arrived as manager two years ago. “I can categorically tell you that I can’t speak about it until the player has signed,” he said, a reference to his categorical statement less than three weeks ago that Balotelli would not sign for Liverpool.
The manager’s volte face stems from a combination of a tempting financial package for Balotelli, with Milan slashing their initial £30m asking price and the player prepared to accept Liverpool’s reduced terms, the lack of proven strikers on the market (Monaco want a £20m loan fee for Falcao, for example) and Rodgers’ belief that his close-knit squad will not be disrupted by one problematic character.
Liverpool perceive Balotelli as a calculated risk who would not result in a major financial loss should the move turn sour. As Rodgers said, when speaking about transfers in general on Fridayyesterday: “Sometimes you have to take a risk with people and a lot of the time if you take that risk you can get a reward for it.”
Having had two years to impose his methods and code of conduct at Liverpool, the manager is confident his squad will not be led astray and that players with previous problems can conform to his methods. “If we thought we were bringing in a player we felt was a risk two years ago I couldn’t have done it because the environment wasn’t created,” Rodgers added. “What we have here now is a culture of performance, of people working very hard, an infrastructure that’s set up to flourish and if you come into that and you’re not that way or that character it would be really difficult for you.”
Despite Balotelli’s troubles with previous clubs, managers and the Italian national team, plus Liverpool’s urgent need for another striker, Rodgers insisted he would not sign a player he had doubts over. Speaking before his meeting with the former Internazionale and City forward, the Liverpool manager added: “Every player that we assess, character is very important, so no player would come in here if I felt it couldn’t work. It’s not just the coaching element, I always look at people as well and if I can help the person then it’s something I’ll look at.
“If you look at my coaching career from when I was a youth coach, it’s all I’ve ever done. People who know me well will tell you that I look to try to develop the player and the person. If I feel that someone cares enough, I will give them everything. We have a culture that creates the talents and gives them the opportunity to blossom and nothing will ever stand in the way of that. As long as they show they care, want to learn and develop, we can give them the opportunity.”