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Football: England braced for Balotelli return

English football was preparing to welcome back one of its most controversial characters on Friday (Aug 22) amid reports Liverpool had made an audacious move to sign Mario Balotelli.

LONDON: English football was preparing to welcome back one of its most controversial characters on Friday (Aug 22) amid reports Liverpool had made an audacious move to sign Mario Balotelli.

Speculation over Balotelli's future intensified Thursday after AC Milan acknowledged the temperamental Italy striker was on his way out of the San Siro. The Milanese club have agreed to let the 24-year-old move to Anfield in a transfer worth €20 million (S$33 million), according to reports in England and Italy.

The Milan website reported that Balotelli had said his goodbyes to players and staff after training on Thursday morning, suggesting only personal terms remain to be finalised. The Liverpool Echo claimed Balotelli's agent was already in the city to finalise the move but that the English giants were looking for reassurances that the player could keep a lid on his explosive temper.

If the deal goes through quickly, his first match could be at his former club Manchester City, the reigning English champions, on Monday. Liverpool, however, have yet to make any formal statement, but a move for the forward would be consistent with their aim to land a top quality replacement for Luis Suarez following the Uruguayan's World Cup biting disgrace and subsequent departure for Barcelona.

During Liverpool's tour of the United States earlier this month, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers had appeared to close the door on a move for Balotelli, saying: "I can categorically tell you that he will not be coming to Liverpool." But with the close of the transfer window looming at the end of the month, it seems the Liverpool manager has had a change of heart over the pursuit of a player he has described as a rare talent.

Balotelli's two-and-a-half years with Manchester City were overshadowed by his off-pitch antics, which included car crashes, setting fireworks off in his bathroom and an incident in which he threw a dart at a youth-team player. He was regularly at loggerheads with then City boss Roberto Mancini and clashed with some team-mates while producing intermittent flashes of his undoubted star quality.

Liverpool had reportedly targeted Monaco's Radamel Falcao as their first-choice replacement for Suarez but made little headway in their attempts to secure the Colombian, who missed the second half of last season and the World Cup with a serious knee injury.

IDEAL MOVE

A return to England and a fresh start could suit Balotelli. The striker has been subjected to criticism in his home country for a perceived poor attitude during Italy's World Cup campaign, which ended with the Azzurri flying home at the end of the group stage. As the most prominent black player in Italy, and the first to represent the country at a major tournament, he has also had to endure regular racist abuse of a kind which is now rare in English stadiums.

Balotelli was always a high-profile figure during his time in England, where he won both the Premier League and the FA Cup but also become a fixture in the gossip pages of the national press. What he perceived as his unjust treatment led to a well-known goal celebration where, after scoring against local rivals Manchester United, he lifted his shirt to reveal a slogan saying 'Why Always Me?'

Balotelli eventually left for Milan in January 2013, Mancini having decided the time was right to cash in on his erratic forward. Suarez's caused Rodgers plenty of problems but the Northern Irishman was lauded for the way he was able to get the best out of his star striker, who scored 31 goals as the Reds narrowly missed out on the Premier League title last season.

Suarez left Liverpool for Barcelona in a £75 million (S$155 million) move following his four-month ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during the World Cup in Brazil. Balotelli scored 16 goals for Milan last season, as well as the winner in Italy's World Cup opener against England in Manaus.

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