By Greg Stobart
Mario Balotelli will board a private jet on Wednesday morning and fly to Milan to complete a €23.4 million
transfer to the Italian giants that brings to a close his colourful and controversial two-and-a-half years at Manchester City.
It is a move that, despite all public pronouncements to the contrary from both clubs and Balotelli’s representative, was desired by all three parties and has been firmly on the cards for the last two months.
For all Roberto Mancini’s claims the striker would not be sold at any price, for all the suggestions that Balotelli was City owner Sheik Mansour’s favourite player, for all Milan president Silvio Berlusconi’s descriptions of the player as ‘a rotten apple’; the deal was always in the pipeline.
City consider the transfer – from which they will receive five payments – as wise business given Balotelli would have had two years remaining on his contract in the summer and has fallen down the pecking order this season, scoring just one Premier League goal as Mancini settled on a 4-3-3 system.
The money from Balotelli’s sale is likely to be re-invested – possibly in the form of a summer move for Napoli star Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid – but it also leaves Mancini looking isolated at the Etihad Stadium.
Mancini often spoke of his fatherly relationship with Balotelli yet, ultimately, the decision to sell the forward was taken by director of football Txiki Begiristain, who used his close relationship with Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani to conclude complex and protracted negotiations.
Goal.com has tracked Milan’s pursuit of Balotelli from the outset and City sources feel the transfer to San Siro – where he will take a small cut from his current €128,000-a-week salary to earn €4m a year – had become inevitable.
In the last three months alone, Balotelli has contracted two viruses, suffered flu and had trouble with back problems. He has also undergone a lazer eye surgery operation, twice been dropped from the squad for a lack of application in training and had a very public training ground bust-up with Mancini.
Something was not right.
It was a process that started in earnest last summer when, after he starred at Euro 2012 and fired Italy to the final with three goals, Paris Saint-Germain tried to lure the 22-year-old away from the Premier League champions.
While City blocked a move by setting the asking price at a prohibitive €46m, Balotelli’s head was turned. He wanted a change, not just on a sporting level (Zlatan Ibrahimovic is his idol and he was keen to link up with the Swede) but because he had become bored of Manchester having seen and done everything the city had to offer.
After taking the club’s advice to move from his city centre apartment to a rented house in Cheshire, Balotelli’s car could still be heard on a daily basis roaring up the A6 as he made his way into town. The quiet life was not for him.
And although Balotelli discovered a love of curry and was on first name terms with all of the staff at restaurants such as San Carlo and Wings, his mind was drifting elsewhere.
Mancini continually attempted this season to address Balotelli’s lack of professionalism in training, both through the media and in one-on-one meetings as City prepared to sell the forward unless his attitude improved, but the message would not compute.
By late November, PSG’s interest appeared to cool but the prospect of a move to Milan – the club the former Inter man makes no secret of supporting as a boy – became a genuine possibility.
Milan started to pave the way for a big-money bid for Balotelli as they put Robinho and Alexandre Pato up for sale, with the former still a target for Santos and the latter now back in Brazil playing for Corinthians.
As Balotelli made it clear he desired a move to Milan, members of his significant entourage began returning to Italy. Two assistants left Manchester before the New Year while his brother Enoch went to play for Serie D side Bogliasco.
In December, he also accepted a €396,000 fine from City for persistent poor discipline on the field, hours before he was due to contest the sanction at a Premier League tribunal. He realised that warring with the club would only harm his chance of returning to Milan.
After Balotelli was sensationally photographed scrapping on the training ground with Mancini on January 3, there was no way back for the Italy international at the Etihad Stadium as his move to Milan edged closer.
He had fallen out of love with City and he was still in love with Milan, where he felt he had something to prove to the people of his country and was keen to spend time with his newborn daughter.
By then, Balotelli had already given notice on his rented house in Cheshire and was in the process of shipping many of his belongings to Italy ahead of the proposed move as City and Milan negotiated the move, despite all claims to the contrary from Mancini and Galliani, who said the player was ‘99.9 per cent not coming’ to the San Siro.
Over the last two weeks, Balotelli has held several impromptu get-togethers with people he has grown close to since joining City from Inter in August 2010 which have been very much seen as ‘goodbye’ occasions.
Many of those friends had been present for some of the wild antics that made him such a target for the tabloid press. Whether driving a quadbike around the basement of No. 1 Deansgate, crashing his Maserati into a lamppost or returning with a trampoline when asked by his mother to pop out to buy an iron; Balotelli was always the centre of attention.
After training on Monday, he said his final goodbyes to team-mates and staff at City’s Carrington training ground before inviting friends to his home in anticipation of a flight to Italy for a medical.
In the end, he travelled to London with the City squad to London ahead of Tuesday night’s game against QPR as the two clubs engaged in some last-minute bartering, but the deal was all but done. Begiristain had agreed to accept a fee in the region of £20m and, having dropped the asking price by £5m, was ready to shake on an agreement.
On Tuesday afternoon, Galliani took to social networking site Twitter to announce the transfer, which will see Balotelli sign a contract until 2017.
Balotelli has shown enough during his time at City – during which he scored 30 goals in 80 appearance – to show he is about more than fireworks, fights and bibs.
Balotelli played a memorable role in the FA Cup semi-final victory over bitter rivals Manchester United in 2011 before scoring twice in the 6-1 thumping of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in October that year.
On the final day of last season, he came off the bench against QPR to provide the assist for Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal deep into stoppage time.
But when he returned for the start of the new campaign, his heart was no longer at City and it showed in his performances.
Now he starts a new chapter, and it will be the people of Milan asking themselves: why always him?