After Adriano Galliani and Silvio Berlusconi jumped at Paris Saint-Germain's double bid for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, it seemed that the days of seeing footballing A-listers in the Rossoneri shirt might be gone. At least for a while.
Along with the Swedish striker and the Brazilian defender, Milan waved goodbye to many senior players over the summer, in a bid to rejuvenate the ageing squad—and slash the wage bill. Even Europe's biggest football clubs are not immune to the current economic problems, and Milan have been very proactive in becoming financially responsible.
All of this is why the surprise winter-window addition of Mario Balotelli raised a few eyebrows. Not only did he cost the club €20 million, with an extra €5 in bonuses promised, but even after taking a paycut, Balo is one of Serie A's top earners.
Milan already had Giampaolo Pazzini up front. A seasoned Italian international with a good scoring record and smaller financial demands.
It's difficult to see Massimiliano Allegri playing both side by side, so Mario's arrival was ostensibly for reasons relating to squad depth. But it was relating to something else, too: star power.
Some suggested Berlusconi was trying to buy the tifosi vote ahead of elections in Italy. And while the pollsters certainly thought the media mogul and former prime minister got a bump in popularity following the arrival of Super Mario at the San Siro, there were more obvious reasons for the move.
Milan's supporter stores were packed with shoppers. Jersey sales were through the roof. And after enraging the faithful with the sales of Ibra and Silva, signing Balo showed Milan's core fanbase that the club still meant business.
The Milan owner is a billionaire and a seasoned politician. He knows the value of a good investment, and he knows that sometimes support and a show of force is more important than just the balance in the bank.
Buying Balotelli ticked all the boxes.
He's one of football's biggest stars. Balo is always in the papers, and though it's not always for footballing reasons, Berlusconi has had enough media scandals over the years to know that there's no such thing as bad publicity anyway.
And by adding him to Allegri's new-look Milan of hard workers and young talent, the Milan boss has given this new version of the Rossoneri the finishing touch it needed: a bit of star sparkle to go with all the common sense.
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