Balotelli needs right opportunity – Raiola

The Liverpool striker’s agent is confident it is “not too late” for his client to bounce back from a disappointing couple of years at Anfield and on loan with AC Milan

Mario Balotelli simply needs the “right opportunity” to get his career back on track, according to his agent Mino Raiola.

Balotelli joined Liverpool for £16 million in 2014 but has failed to make a positive impact at Anfield. He was farmed out on loan to AC Milan last season but again struggled with form and fitness, scoring just three goals in 23 games in all competitions.

His future remains the subject of much speculation – former club Inter were again linked with the Italy international on Friday – and Raiola insists he would make a positive impact given the right conditions.

He told Corriere dello Sport: “In life it is never too late. If you think Mario makes me despair, you are wrong because his life has improved a lot and now only needs to have the right opportunity. 

“Of course, he also needs a little bit of luck which, in recent seasons, he has not had. But I assure you, he is a great person, a guy with a big heart.”

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp hinted last week he does not see Balotelli as a part of his plans this season.


GOALREAD MORE  | Meet Raiola: The controversial agent behind the Pogba deal


However, the German hopes to help build Balotelli’s confidence back up before sending him to a club where he can be a leading figure.

“Since he has been back here, he’s been a good guy and I can’t say anything different than that,” said Klopp.

“Everything’s been good, it’s all okay. And now he’s here, we will do everything we can to get him fit.

“We want Mario to become the player he was before his injury. The talent is still there – no doubt about it

“When we have done the crossing, heading and stuff, he’s been world class. But this is not a situation where he should be battling with other players like this for one position so it’s clear we need a solution.

“There will be a club around who would be happy to have a new Mario Balotelli, if you like. I have spoken clearly to the player about that.

“It’s now time to make decisions and I try to help Mario to get in the best shape he can be in and we will see what happens.”

Mino Raiola: The controversial 'super-agent' behind Pogba's Manchester United move

Love him or loathe him, the Italian is adept at selling himself and his players, as evidenced by the fact that he has just masterminded the biggest transfer in football history


GOALPROFILE


Mino Raiola’s accountancy firm is called Maguire Tax & Legal, its name inspired by an Oscar-winning movie starring Tom Cruise. Many people within the game would no doubt be offended by the insinuation that Raiola is in any way similar to ‘Jerry Maguire’, the fictional sports agent who comes to champion love (or “kwan”) over greed. Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has called his fellow Italian “a pain in the backside”, while Alex Ferguson admitted: “I distrusted him from the moment I met him.”

Welcome to the divisive – yet lucrative – world of Mino Raiola, ‘super-agent’.

The 45-year-old was born in Agri, Italy, but his parents emigrated to Netherlands when he was still an infant, settling in Haarlem. It was in this Dutch municipality that Raiola was raised before taking the first steps to becoming one of the most influential men in football.

Raiola was a moderately talented player in his youth and he played for his local club before quitting the game at just 18. However, while he started studying law, he had not lost his passion for football, electing to take charge of the Haarlem youth team.

Even at such a tender age, Raiola was a straight-talker with a distinct lack of respect for any figure of authority other than his restaurateur father.

“The president of Haarlem came to eat with us every Friday,” he explained in an interview with Il Secolo XIX in 2011. “I was always telling him that he knew nothing about football. One day he takes me aside and says: ‘Listen, you try it.’ He appointed me sporting director.”

Raiola, though, became frustrated by his inability to make what he reckoned were the requisite changes due to a lack of funds. However, with Dutch players very much in vogue in the mid-1980s, he saw that there was money to be made in selling his adopted nation’s top footballing talent to Italy, which was then the centre of the footballing universe.

Raiola, having honed his skills as a mediator while working as a broker for Dutch businessmen with commercial interests in Italy, negotiated a deal with the player’s union in Netherlands that enabled him to represent all of the country’s footballers.

His goal at this point was to establish a special working relationship with Napoli, “the club of my heart”. However, the deal collapsed. “I called [then Partenopei president Corrado] Ferlaino. We started the collaboration. I offered him [Dennis] Bergkamp for 700 million lire (€3.6m). He hesitated. Two years later (1993), he offered 1.4 billion lire (€7.2m), but I gave the player to Inter.”

With the Bergkamp deal, which also saw Wim Jonk join the Nerazzurri from Ajax, Raiola had established himself as a major player in Serie A, coming as it did a year after Bryan Roy’s successful switch from Amsterdam to Foggia.

What was clear at this juncture was that Raiola was adept at making his clients happy. However, clubs were becoming increasingly concerned by his methods.

Indeed, Ajax, who had profited substantially from Raiola-arranged deals during the early ’90s, were less enamoured with the way in which star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic left for Juventus in 2004. Their ill-feeling only intensified two years later when the fallout from Calciopoli led to the release of the following recorded telephone exchanges between then Bianconeri managing director Luciano Moggi and Raiola.

Moggi: “You and Ibra continue to make trouble. Don’t send him to training …”

Raiola: “Tomorrow, I’ll keep the player at home all day; he won’t show up for training. I then have an appointment with the directors of Ajax at noon, but I’ll come at two…”

Raiola’s influence on players was also queried by Manchester United boss Ferguson during his club’s ultimately futile attempts to persuade former midfielder Paul Pogba to remain at Old Trafford in 2012. “He [Pogba] has got an agent who’s obviously become a bit difficult,” the Scot stated at the time. He would subsequently blame Pogba’s free transfer to Juventus on his “fiasco” of a first meeting with Raiola.

“There are one or two football agents I simply do not like – and Mino Raiola is one of them,” he wrote in his book ‘Leading’.

“He and I were like oil and water. From [the first meeting] on, our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to ingratiate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus.”

Raiola, unsurprisingly, has a very different view on Pogba’s exit from Old Trafford and insists that he only ever does right by his clients, arguing that he does not engineer transfers, but merely facilitates them.

“Those words don’t describe my work in a negative way,” he told Tuttosport last September. “I rate them as a proof that I am good at my job.

“I have to do what’s best for my players’ sake. If I had looked only at my immediate gain, I would have kept Pogba in Manchester.

“But I put Pogba’s interests first and we decided to go to Turin. Maybe Ferguson only likes those who obey him.”

Raiola and Pogba are now back in the spotlight once more, with the former having masterminded the latter’s seemingly imminent return to Old Trafford for a world-record fee of €110m. It seems a strange switch from a footballing perspective – but not from a financial point of view. The figures involved are colossal and it was telling that the negotiations were held up by the fact that Raiola was entitled to 20 per cent of the transfer fee.

Of course, given that two of his other clients have also just moved to Manchester, Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, many will argue that the Pogba deal is very much a case of an agent acting in his own interests.

Whatever the truth, this is a man with an undeniable way with words who knows how to sell himself, and his players. He has memorably compared Pogba with a Salvador Dali painting and claimed that Ibrahimovic’s move to Paris Saint-Germain has provided visitors to the French capital with something to see other than the Mona Lisa. However, while he speaks eight languages (Italian, Dutch, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and “of course Neapolitan”), he rather humbly puts his impressive linguistic capabilities down to “preparation, not intelligence”.

However, he is also incredibly canny. He has cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship with several clubs and managers, and he has also proven himself wonderfully adept at massaging the ego of his players. He told a teenage Balotelli that he would make him a three-time Ballon d’Or winner, yet claimed that the same award will be rendered meaningless if it is never given to Ibrahimovic.

Such contradictions lie at the very heart of the role of agents in the modern game. Yes, the world of football would be a better place if there were no agents, but it is a pipe dream, as football is no longer a sport, but big business. “We live in a cynical world,” as Dicky Fox says in ‘Jerry Maguire’. “And we work in a business of tough competitors.”

Consequently, there will always be a need for people like Raiola. Love him or loathe him, one cannot deny that he is very good at what he does. The man himself says he resolves problems. His detractors say that he creates them. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between – and perhaps utterly irrelevant, because the bottom line is that Mino Raiola makes money. Both for his clients – and himself.

RUMOURS: Mancini wants Balotelli back at Inter

The Nerazzurri coach worked with the striker when they were both at the club and then again at Manchester City and could be reunited once again in Serie A


Roberto Mancini wants Mario Balotelli to return to Inter this summer, according to Tuttosport.

The coach worked with the striker in his first spell at the Nerazzurri and was then reunited with him at Manchester City, where they won the Premier League, FA Cup and Community Shield, though they had their occasional fall outs.

Balotelli has been unable to fulfill the promise he showed in his early days at Inter and spent last term on loan at AC Milan, but failed to impress.

Jurgen Klopp has already told the striker he will have to leave during the current transfer window and it has been reported in Italy that Mancini fancies teaming up with him once again.



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Why not him? Mario Balotelli's fall from most-wanted to most-shunted

The 25-year-old is a Champions League winner, but has no future at Liverpool nor any concrete offers for his services, and only he can reverse the slide


GOALCOMMENT


Corriere dello Sport’s front page was adorned with a ‘Balotelli amazing’ banner.

A driver along the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, meanwhile, changed the destination on the front of his bus to simply read “Super Mario.” 

Four years ago, the striker was the architect of what the German press described as their albtraum – nightmare – as his superb double for Italy denied Joachim Low’s side a place in the final of Euro 2012. 

 
The iconic image of Mario Balotelli from that match – shirt ripped off, legs apart, his athletic frame a statue of triumph with his face stern – dominated the digital and print spheres globally. 

In the four years since, he has been the architect of another nightmare – his own. 

From giving his country “a magical night” on a grand European stage, the Liverpool forward now finds himself overlooked for pre-season friendlies at Tranmere, Fleetwood and Wigan.

He is still only 25. He is a Champions League winner. He is a three-time Serie A victor. He is a Premier League title holder. 

He can be unplayable, he can be intoxicating, and he can be decisive. 

But he is unfocused, he is indifferent, and he is running out of last chances.

Balotelli has no future at Liverpool and no firm offers have been forthcoming for his services. Sampdoria and Crotone have stated their interest in the player publicly, but not formally.

Beyond that, the sentiment in Italy is largely that the attacker represents too much risk for too little reward. 

He had been desperate to stay at Milan, and stated as much, but they were averse to making his loan spell permanent as it wasn’t merited. 

‘Why Always Me?’ has been transformed to ‘Why Not Me?’

How did Balotelli get here? To a wasteland his former team-mate Andrea Pirlo can’t fathom. “I have played with some of the best strikers, and I can tell you Mario has all the attributes to be one of the best strikers in the world,” the midfield maestro said.

“By now I thought that is where he would be, that is where he should be.”

Why isn’t he?

Steven Gerrard was blunt about it in My Story“He is very talented with the potential to be world class, but he’ll never get there because of his mentality and the people around him. 

“Balotelli’s always late, he always wants attention…

“He doesn’t work hard enough on a daily basis. You’re always fighting a losing battle with Balotelli. He does too many things wrong.”

Roberto Mancini, who served as a father figure to the maverick when he managed him at Manchester City, added: “I think that it’s important that Mario starts – or restarts – to think only about football. Not the other things that are around him.

“It depends on Mario. If Mario wants to do it, he can do it.”

There is no shortage of people wanting Balotelli to succeed, but the problem is their desire has outweighed his willingness to actually work for it. 

When the hitman arrived at Liverpool two summers ago, he admitted he needed to overhaul his attitude and elevate his productivity. “I’ve been very impressed by the man himself because he is very honest,” former manager Brendan Rodgers said in August 2014.

“He knows his flaws and his faults and he is looking for someone to help him with it. Of course it is a risk, we are not going to say it isn’t, but he is a big talent.”

It wasn’t too long after those words that training sessions became a period of fun for the striker rather than preparation for the games ahead. He became disinterested in the matches themselves, with Gerrard noting his “demeanour was very poor.” Balotelli had even once forgotten that Liverpool had a cup fixture to tackle, and arranged alternative plans.

He was endearing on a personal level, but his attitude and application was a source of constant annoyance for the squad.

Balotelli is back at Melwood this pre-season, and by all accounts, has been professional.  “I heard a lot about him ever since I came here,” said Jurgen Klopp.

“But since he has been back, he’s been a good guy and I can’t say anything different than that. 

“It’s not that he’s come back and said ‘who’s the boss, I’m the boss no sorry it’s you.’ It’s not been that at all. 

“Everything’s been good, it’s all okay. And now he’s here, we will do everything we can to get him fit.”

Klopp believes “there will be a club around who would be happy to have new Mario Balotelli” – a version of the player with the temperament to match his talent. 

Liverpool have been helping the Palermo-born ace reach his physical peak since July 2. The rest is squarely up to Balotelli, who has to stop being a gamble and evolve into a sure bet.

“He has no more time to waste,” as Pirlo put it.

 

Pirlo: I thought Balotelli would be one of the best by now

The iconic midfielder insists that the Liverpool striker should be one of the best in the world and has warned him that he cannot afford to continue to waste his talent

Andrea Pirlo has warned Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli that time is running out for him to fulfill his potential, as he believes that the striker should be among the world’s best by this stage of his career.

The topsy-turvy career of Balotelli has stagnated in recent years, with the 25-year-old facing the axe at Liverpool after failing to earn a permanent move to Serie A side AC Milan.

Since winning the Premier League as a Manchester City player in 2011-12, having won three Scudetto’s and a Champions League crown with Inter prior, Balotelli’s career has hit something of a cross-roads, with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp telling the striker to find a new club.

Pirlo knows Balotelli’s quality better than most following the pair’s time together with Italy and the 37-year-old midfielder has called on the controversial frontman not to waste his talent.

“He frustrates me, but I do have so much affection for Mario,” Pirlo told the Mirror.

“He is infectious to be around. When I used to see him walk into training for Italy, he would have this big smile on his face – and I would just burst out laughing – and start wondering what is he thinking, what is he up to?

“Mario should not just be a character the media write about for good stories. We shouldn’t forget what a special player he is.

“I have played with some of the best strikers, and I can tell you Mario has all the attributes to be one of the best strikers in the world.

“By now I thought that is where he would be, that is where he should be. He has no more time to waste.”

Pirlo, now playing for New York City in MLS, added: “He has played for so many big clubs, it’s easy to forget he’s only 25.

“He still has time to make it at the very top. [But] He needs to pick his next club carefully.

“I have read things about him and China. With all respect to their league, Mario should not be going there yet.

“If he has two or three good seasons at his next club, he will still only be 28 and could join one of the top clubs in Europe.

“I don’t have any advice for him anymore, he knows the qualities that he has. From this point, it’s up to Mario.”