There have been reports to the contrary, as Wenger himself, who was asked about Balotelli on beIN Sports World Cup Show, called the rumors, “…pure invention…,” per Massimo Marioni at Metro.
He went on to add, “We cannot believe absolutely everything that is on the internet or in the papers. Sometimes it is created by agents or by press who need news. But in this case, it’s not true.”
The links between Arsenal and Balotelli have exploded after Milan executive Barbara Berlusconi told Football-Italia,“Balotelli is a great player and a real Italian talent, but nobody is irreplaceable. We'll see what happens."
With Italy now eliminated from World Cup contention, we’ll likely see the Balotelli-Arsenal rumors continue to swirl, and while it’s always a massive blow to lose your best player, selling Balotelli might not be all that bad for a Milan side in need of a serious rebuild.
The Rossoneri were a club in turmoil last season, needing two different managers to trudge to a disappointing eighth-place finish. After Massimiliano Allegri was sacked in January, the club replaced the 2011-12 Scudetto winner with club-icon Clarence Seedorf.
Seedorf’s appointment was met favorably, aided by the overwhelming anti-Allegri sentiment that had pervaded much of Milan’s support towards the end of the latter’s tenure. However, Seedorf was apparently unable to deliver as the club sacked him at the end of the 2013-14 season, replacing him with another former star, Filippo Inzaghi.
Inzaghi favors the 4-3-3 formation, a one-striker system that Balotelli’s playing style would certainly fit, given the striker’s experience playing as the lone man up front. He knows how to shoulder the goal-scoring onus and has effectively been Milan’s lone goal threat since joining the club in January 2013.
Stephan El Shaarawy was the club’s savior prior to Super Mario’s arrival, but the two Italian internationals struggled to gel. Following Balotelli’s late-January transfer from Manchester City, El Shaarawy scored just one goal the rest of the way. Like Il Faraone, Giampaolo Pazzini’s goals dried up in the second half of that 2012-13 season and he was a non-factor in the 2013-14 season because of a long-term knee injury.
With El Shaarawy and Pazzini expected to be fit for the coming 2014-15 Serie A campaign, both players will be looking to get off to fast starts under Inzaghi.
Injuries decimated the chances of repeating his breakout season, but El Shaarawy remains a huge piece of the Milan offense and should flourish on the left wing of Pippo’s 4-3-3, where he’ll be liberated of the tremendous defensive duties he was tasked with under Allegri. Pazzo, who will turn 30 in August, is a proven goalscorer with loads of top-flight experience and while he won’t be the long-term solution, he’s a very capable stop-gap until Inzaghi finds his centre-forward of the future.
Now the obvious question is, “Why isn’t Balotelli that centre-forward?”
At 24 years old, he has loads of time to get even better and, most importantly, mature. His play is often overshadowed by a mistimed challenge or petulant outburst, both of which usually eventuate in a booking as Balotelli has earned that reputation.
Having a teammate who runs a constant risk of being sent off is taxing and there comes a time when Balotelli must realize he is putting his team at an immense disadvantage every time he opens his mouth in discontent or dives into a rash, frustration-induced tackle. I don’t know that he can do that and until he can prove that he can control his temper, he’ll never become the player he has the potential to be.
There isn’t a lot of stability surrounding Milan nowadays and with what we’ve seen of the player’s on-and-off field antics, the enigma that is Mario Balotelli needs—or at the very least would be helped by—a structured environment that allows him to focus on football.
Should he be sold, Milan will receive considerable compensation. Ben Jefferson of the Express reported that Milan will attempt to acquire Costa Rican international Joel Campbell as part of the deal that would bring Balo to the Gunners.
Campbell has shone well in his first World Cup and should Wenger be amenable to letting the 22-year-old forward go, Milan will be getting a really promising centre-forward. He's sent on a series of loan deals since joining the North London outfit in 2011, and recently had his best one yet, netting eight goals in 32 matches with Greek giants Olympiakos.
A cash deal would see the Rossoneri get at least £25 million, a hefty sum that could be reinvested in other positions of need, as well as help balance the books, an unfortunate consequence of Milan’s current financial situation which has become exacerbated by the club’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Goalkeeper and centre-back are still needs, even though Michael Agazzi and Alex have already been signed to mind their respective positions. I’d love to see Bryan Cristante given a run alongside Riccardo Montolivo and Nigel de Jong in a three-man midfield, but if Inzaghi opts to bring the youngster along slowly, another central midfielder would be nice.
Right wing may too be a question as M'Baye Niang's future is unclear and who knows if Robinho will be around as the club has tried to sell him multiple times. Jeremy Menez was signed from PSG on a free transfer, but he didn't play much last season. Sixteen-year-old Hachim Mastour is the most intriguing option, but he needs to develop and likely won't feature in more than a few cameos in his debut campaign.
Adel Taarabt could certainly start on the right and deserves a permanent deal following his impressive loan spell, as does Adil Rami, but terms are yet to be agreed with QPR and Valencia.
The Milan brass seem unwilling to spend any money they don’t have the promise of recouping and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that all three players Milan has signed this summer—Agazzi, Alex and Menez—have all arrived on Bosman transfers.
Inzaghi will need to be given the requisite funds to bring in players that coincide with his footballing philosophy. It’s a catch-22 and a problem that Balotelli’s sale would help rectify, but if the front office doesn’t plan to spend the lion’s share of his fee on squad improvements, justifying the transfer would be impossible.
Losing Balotelli would hurt and not one player Milan signs will be able to replicate his impact, but it wouldn’t be just one player the club could sign with the Balotelli money. This squad is in need of an overhaul if it hopes to contend with Juventus, Roma and Napoli and wholesale improvements under the eye of a new manager—albeit at the expense of centre-forward quality—will allow the team to establish a much-needed identity.
Sometimes you need to take a step back before you can take two forward and by selling Mario Balotelli, Filippo Inzaghi will have the chance Clarence Seedorf never did: A transfer window and the money to create his Milan, a Milan that he’ll hope to guide to the pinnacle of Italian football once again.