Liverpool have agreed to a $26 million transfer fee with AC Milan for Italian striker Mario Balotelli, according to multiple reports.
The reports came after Balotelli told Sky Italia that Thursday would be his last day at the club’s Milanello training ground. A statement on Milan’s website later revealed the 24-year-old had said his farewells to teammates.
Liverpool have not commented but Press Association Sport understands their interest in the player is firm. That represents an about-turn from three weeks ago when Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers – after being asked prior to a preseason friendly against Milan in the United States – "categorically" said Balotelli was not a target.
Should discussions advance, the possibility arises that Balotelli could become a Liverpool player before they play City in their next Barclays Premier League game at the Etihad Stadium on Monday. "It’s my last day at Milanello," Balotelli said on Sky Italia.
The Serie A club’s website, www.acmilan.it, later reported: "Mario Balotelli left Milanello’s sporting center at 13.30, after saying goodbye to his teammates. Before leaving the premises, the striker has said goodbye to members of Milan’s press office."
Balotelli has spent just 19 months at boyhood club Milan — a move that was supposed to both reignite his career and settle him down — after City grew tired of his erratic behavior on and off the pitch. Balotelli enjoyed a whirlwind spell at City after arriving in 2010 in a £24 million move from Inter Milan.
His performances were compelling at first and full of rich potential. The Italy international played a key role in the FA Cup success of 2011 and the following year’s Premier League title win but he also gained notoriety for numerous off-field misdemeanors. These famously included fireworks being set off in his bathroom, throwing a dart at a youth-team player and training-ground bust-ups with teammates and manager Roberto Mancini.
He also accrued four red cards during his time with City, who decided to offload to Milan for £19million in January last year. Liverpool appear to have decided a gamble on his mercurial talents is one worth taking having been frustrated in their attempts to find a marquee striker to replace Luis Suarez.
An audacious move for Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, as suggested in some reports, may be problematic, interest in former Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o appears to have cooled and a deal for QPR’s Loic Remy collapsed. At present new signing Rickie Lambert is the only frontline support for Daniel Sturridge.
Another new face, Divock Origi, has been allowed to return to Lille on loan while Fabio Borini, who had a successful spell at Sunderland last season, seems out of the picture. Rodgers does have experience with difficult characters, of course, having coaxed the best out of Suarez before his departure for Barcelona.
Suarez’s disciplinary problems — including biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and publicly stating his desire to leave — caused headaches for Rodgers but the Uruguayan thrived on the pitch. He was outstanding last season and the £65-75 million Liverpool eventually banked from Barca has funded a squad-building spending spree this summer.
Other new arrivals include Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Dejan Lovren. Milan president Silvio Berlusconi recently said he came close to selling Balotelli — who is under contract at the San Siro until June 2017 — to an unnamed English club before the World Cup. Balotelli scored 16 times for Milan last season and grabbed Italy’s winner in the World Cup opener against England in Manaus.