x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Mario Balotelli exit a sign of the times for fallen giants Milan

Mario Balotelli’s departure from AC Milan for Liverpool provoked few tears among Italian football fans with many wishing good riddance to the controversial striker.

A Manchester United fans holds a banner about Mario Balotelli of Manchester City  during a Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United on April 11, 2012. Returning to the Premier League, but with Liverpool, Balotelli is likely to start up the same love-hate relationship as before. Michael Regan / Getty Images
A Manchester United fans holds a banner about Mario Balotelli of Manchester City during a Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United on April 11, 2012. Returning to the Premier League, but with Liverpool, Balotelli is likely to start up the same love-hate relationship as before. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Mario Balotelli’s departure from AC Milan for Liverpool provoked few tears among Italian football fans with many wishing good riddance to the controversial striker.

Balotelli, 24, left Italy in a private jet at lunch time on Friday to have a medical examination before joining the English Premier League club.

For Milan, the €20 million (Dh97.2m) sale is the latest confirmation that the one-time giants of Italian football have become a selling club. It has also left a huge gap in their forward line with the transfer market set to close.

Milan manager Filippo Inzaghi, who already lost Brazilian playmaker Kaka to Major League Soccer this summer, is reported to be pursuing Porto’s highly-rated Colombian striker Jackson Martinez. After scoring 46 goals in 60 appearances over the two seasons he has spent in Portugal, Martinez, 27, has attracted interest from a string of top clubs, including Arsenal and Chelsea, so there is no guarantee that Milan will succeed in bringing him to the San Siro.

Reports have suggested that Inzaghi was also looking at Torino and Italy winger Alessio Cerci. Also 27, Cerci is possibly a more realistic target given that Milan, who finished eighth in Serie A last season, cannot offer new recruits European football.

Neither Martinez or Cerci will come with Balotelli-sized salary expectations, which will be welcome news for Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. The media tycoon and former prime minister turns 78 next month and has been steadily scaling back his financial commitment to the seven-times European champions.

Balotelli is the latest in a string of top players to leave Milan in recent years, including Andrea Pirlo, Zlatan Ibrahamovic and Thiago Silva.

It has been seen as significant that Berlusconi has sanctioned the sale of Balotelli for the same amount he paid for him in January 2013 when Manchester City were desperate to offload him.

Berlusconi’s daughter, Barbara, has revealed that the family were seeking new investors to buy a 30 per cent stake in the club with the aim of restoring its financial firepower, but there have been no indications of progress on that front.

The baggage of erratic, unpredictable behaviour that comes with Balotelli was reflected in the reaction to his departure.

A poll run on sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport’s website suggested most readers were pleased to see the back of him, with 83 per cent of more than 2,500 respondents saying they were happy he was returning to England.

His departure also provoked much humorous comment on social media, with one Twitter user mocking up an image of the famous Abbey Road picture of the Beatles – the famous band from Liverpool – on a pedestrian crossing with Balotelli parked on it in his red sports car. Former Italy striker Christian Vieri also weighed in, tweeting that Milan chief executive Adriano Galliano had pulled off the greatest transfer “coup” in the club’s ­history.

In a more serious commentary on Balotelli joining the fourth major club of his career at the age of 24, La Gazzetta said Italy would miss its prodigal son. But the daily also suggested he could struggle to settle on Merseyside, far from his Italian family and the baby daughter he has with a former girlfriend.

“The Kop will sing You’ll Never Walk Alone to him but Mario, who seems incapable of putting down roots, will always walk alone,” Gazzetta predicted. “He is on an eternal odyssey.”

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