Silvio Berlusconi said he lost. He lost just as much as the Italian national team after the 2014 World Cup.
"I was about to sell [Mario] Balotelli to an English team for several millions," Berlusconi is quoted as saying in La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t The Guardian). "But after this World Cup who will buy him any more?"
The market is still open for Balotelli to make a move.
However, even though he scored in his first-ever World Cup match, against England in Manaus, Balotelli ultimately failed to make a good impression in Brazil. He risked a red card in what was essentially an elimination game in the third and final group match against Uruguay.
But his performances with AC Milan have not suffered too badly. He has scored 29 goals in 52 competitive matches since joining Milan in January 2013. That is a pretty decent return from the 23-year-old.
Last season was also his first real season as a starter for any pro club. It was the first with Balotelli as the focal point, and these times were emotional: Balotelli crying on the bench in Napoli on the same week that he discovered he was a dad, then reportedly showing up late for practice, posting picture after picture on Instagram. The fans were divided on this potential star in the making.
Yet his value is lower than it has been.
Milan face a difficult decision.
They could sell him at a low price and replace him with another player, say Porto's Jackson Martinez or Arsenal's Joel Campbell, even if history suggests that Milan do not sell low (see Andriy Shevchenko and Kaka). Or they could keep him, give him one more season, and see if he develops into the world-class player that he promises to be.
Right now, he is not. He is sometimes a distraction, other times brilliant, most of the time frustrating.
But they could use the €20 million or so to buy some midfielders, maybe even a right winger. Alessio Cerci is a long-time target of Milan, but his signing seems to be blocked by Robinho.
Galliani: "Cerci? We can't do anything until Robinho leaves."— AC Milan News (@Milanello) July 24, 2014
It does not appear as if selling Balotelli is a necessary thing, perhaps just a luxury. That said, CEO Adriano Galliani has always said that Milan have to sell players before they go out and buy.
If Balotelli is sold, then another high-profile player would probably come in. It could unlock a substitute like Ezequiel Lavezzi, a winger, according to Sky Sport Italia (h/t Forza Italian Football), that Paris Saint-Germain are currently unwilling to sell.
That's how it works at Milan: one goes out and another replaces—mostly at a lower calibre. That kind of trade has not worked out too well lately. In the last summer window, Milan sold Kevin-Prince Boateng, only to pay €11 million for striker Alessandro Matri, who has been sent on loan for the second time in a year.
Unfortunately, only a player like Balotelli can recoup a sizable transfer fee.
But when do Milan finally come to keep players worth the most to them? When do they stop sacrificing their best players for future considerations? Whether he is liked is questionable enough. But liked or not, Balotelli possesses the most talent on this Milan squad, and it would be difficult to replace him.
Here in North America on their tour of the U.S. and Canada, he is Milan's sole star attraction, the one player all the kids wait to see in front of hotels and at stadiums.
During Milan's 3-0 loss to Olympiacos in Toronto on Thursday, the loudest cheers came when Balotelli was shown on the big screen, flashing that pearly smile of his.
Maybe he is bigger than the club. Maybe he has to go. But he gives the team a name and a presence on a market slipping away from them.
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