LONDON: Mario Balotelli is heading back to the Premier League with Liverpool but not in time to show Manchester City tomorrow what they lost.
The self-destructive nature of Super Mario means that the fee demanded by Milan is ‘only’ £16m and the temperamental Italy striker has already said his ‘goodbyes’ to team-mates and officials in Italy.
A three-year contract worth a basic £80,000-a-week plus £40,000 in performance and behaviour incentives awaits the 24-year-old after the completion of negotiations and medical checks which began at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground on Friday.
The former Internazionale and Manchester City would make his debut at Tottenham Hotspur next Sunday as replacement for Luis Suarez. Opinion remains divided about whether Brendan Rodgers is being too optimistic about his own man-management skills in replacing one footballing time-bomb with another.
Former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness, now one of the two most perceptive TV analysts along with Gary Neville, described Balotelli as “a gamble Rodgers does not need to take.”
Souness added: “Rodgers has a very strong group of players. The harmony looks good but he may find, like every previous manager, that he will spend more time talking about Balotelli, spending time with him and defending him, than he will the rest of the group put together.
“The group is always the most important thing. If you have someone who doesn’t want to train properly or give everything on a Saturday then you are handing an excuse to the weaker personalities in the squad to do the same.”
Souness’s concerns have been supported by a comment from Mino Raiola, Balotelli’s agent, that the move to Liverpool is “make or break” for his player.
Football is full of managers who believed they had the secret to control a wayward personality who proved beyond everyone else. Brian Clough could manage it; so did Sir Alex Ferguson with Eric Cantona. But they have been exceptions in the English game.
Rodgers said: “Every player that we assess, character is very important, so no player would come in here if I felt it couldn’t work.”
This sudden air of uncertainty around Liverpool and the squad could work to Manchester City’s advantage as the champions host last season’s runners-up. City have refined their squad during the summer while Liverpool have undergone a mini revolution with the departure of Suarez.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini has described the match as a six-pointer. He will still be without unready French defender Eliaquim Mangala but Frank Lampard and Sergio Aguero will be in the squad.