Mario Balotelli left AC Milan’s training centre on Thursday in a red Ferrari. “Nothing is decided,” he is quoted as saying on gianlucadimarzio.com. “Nothing is on paper yet.” But the scene was telling. Balotelli did not stop for autographs or much else. He just left quietly in a flashy car, like many stars in recent years, gone as quickly as they came.
AC Milan later confirmed his exit in a statement released on their official website. He said goodbye to his teammates and the club's staff, and he was gone.
The deal on the table came from Liverpool. It is a permanent transfer worth around £16 million. The two sides must still discuss personal terms, per Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia), but his value has dropped. Milan paid Manchester City £19 million for Balotelli last year, but Milan still owe them a fair bit of that fee. The two clubs agreed to pay over several years.
By the way; Milan still owe money to Manchester City for Balotelli - around €12m.— AC Milan News (@Milanello) August 21, 2014
So it is not the best bit of business from a team that continues to buy and sell players like a trader on the stock exchange. They continue to make marquee signings only to sell those same players a couple of years later. They did it with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.
Just this year, CEO Adriano Galliani said Kaka would be staying. “There is a 99 percent chance that he will remain with us,” Galliani told Milan’s official website (h/t Sky Sports). That was also a lie: Kaka left for Orlando City, via Sao Paulo, a month later.
Deceit is common at Milan. Galliani used similar percentages to weigh the future of Balotelli. “Balotelli never asked to be sold,” Galliani told reporters (h/t Football Italia). "He will stay at Milan. One hundred percent doesn’t exist on the transfer market, but 99.9 percent does.”
Even when Balotelli first arrived back in January 2013, Galliani said (h/t The Guardian) “it was 99.9% that it would not happen.” All a smokescreen.
The math just never added up, even though Balotelli always complicates things. He is a hard player to reconcile with, the player he is versus the player he can be. He is 24 and he still has time, but even on his birthday, teammate Nigel de Jong made a plea.
de Jong (@NDJ_Official) August 12, 2014
Balotelli is both a talent and a burden, not always in equal measure. He guarantees nothing on the field and off. He did score 29 goals in 52 competitive matches for the Rossoneri, but 10 came from the penalty spot. He also picked up 19 yellow cards and a red card, and he was suspended various times. He takes lots of shots, and not too many go in.
Then out of nowhere he would conjure up a spectacular goal.
But Milan are also losing their most marketable player, the main reason why so many fans attended those horrible pre-season games in the U.S. He hardly played, and yet the fans roared loudest when they saw him on the big screens or when he walked by their hotel. They bought his jersey. They wanted him more than any other player.
Milan now lack that star power. M’Baye Niang and Giampaolo Pazzini don’t have the same ring as Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi did. Milan have lost much of its relevance as a big club. They go through players like it’s nothing. The more they buy and sell, the easier it is to realize that there is no plan.
What’s worse is the club’s inability to properly replace those who leave. They never really replaced Shevchenko, and they sold him eight years ago. They never truly replaced Kaka. This time it is not even really about the money. They are taking a loss on Balotelli. It is fair to assume they want him out—now.
Balotelli has struggled with pretty much every one of his managers: Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Cesare Prandelli. But there was always something that they saw in him. “I will give him another 100 chances if possible,” Mancini said (h/t The Telegraph) while managing Manchester City, “if I think he can change.”
For Mourinho, Balotelli was “good fun.” He reminisced about him with a smile.
“I could write a book of 200 pages of my two years in Inter with Mario,” Mourinho told Pedro Pinto of CNN. “But the book would be not a drama. The book would be a comedy.”
Yet Balotelli would take up so much of their energy. He is hard to tame, especially on social media, where he once posted a shot of him pointing a gun right at the frame. He still has to learn his role in his team and the world.
His relationship with Italy is just as tough to understand. He dealt with racist abuse in many stadiums around the country. In the middle of his time with Milan, a daughter was born. He became a symbol of a newer generation, a patsy when things went bad for Italy, and perhaps it was too much.
He was supposed to come back to Italy to find peace, to escape the media in England. In his first press conference with Milan, Balotelli refused to speak with a reporter from The Sun. "Listen," he said, "your newspaper, from when I got to England, you always talk bad about me, so I don't want to speak with your newspaper."
He was supposed to be closer to his adoptive parents, so close to Brescia, where he grew up. He said he would not miss the press, the weather, the food, the way you drive in England. He hated the fact that the paparazzi would come to his house.
“You cannot come to my house and wait in front of my house,” he told TIME magazine. “It’s something about respect as well, and when the respect is missing, then there’s a problem.”
Now he is off to Liverpool, back to try England again. He is essentially starting all over. Last season was his first as a true starter. Now Jamie Carragher isn’t even sure if he will play all the time. He told Sky Sports:
Would he be the final piece of the jigsaw? Would he make the starting XI if everyone was fit and firing? Who knows? At the moment Daniel Sturridge has got 36 goals in 50 games for Liverpool and at this moment he is the main man up front.
If the move happens quickly enough, Balotelli could even feature for Liverpool against Manchester City on Monday, per Gianluca Di Marzio.
Almost everything in Mario’s life happens quickly. That’s why he was driving a Ferarri, and that’s why he has not yet stayed with a single club for more than three years.