No more excuses for Mario Balotelli

Posted by Gabriele Marcotti

Unless he misses his flight back to Italy because he has decided to join a cult or he gets kidnapped by aliens who want to study his brain or something equally extraordinary occurs -- and, given who we're talking about, not much is beyond the realm of possibility -- Mario Balotelli will become a Milan player in the next 24 hours.

You don't often get deals in which everybody benefits, but you sort of feel this could be one of those situations (though, as ever, the final verdict will come down the road).

Balotelli divided opinion in England. If you think he's a dud who will never fulfill his potential (or, as some seem to, that even his potential isn't all it's cracked up to be) then City will get back most of the money they shelled out two and a half years ago.

AP Photo/Jon SuperMario Balotelli made the right move in joining AC Milan.

You may have seen different figures out there, because there are no “official” numbers, but my understanding is that the original fee was around $29.5 million plus another $9 million in potential bonuses and incentives, the vast majority of which have not been met. Given that Milan will pay $27 million plus up to an additional $4 million based on performance, that's not bad business at all, especially when you consider that City will be saving themselves some $14 million a season, or $35 million through the life of Balotelli's contract. Then there's amortization which, depending how the bean-counters originally structured his fee, could show a “paper profit” of as much as $12 million. That adds up to some $47 million which, in this era of Financial Fair Play (something that will be a challenge for City), is a considerable amount.

If you're City, you can't write off the Great Super Mario Experiment as a complete flop, given what the club got back. Not to mention that, for all his flaws, Balotelli did come up big on a number of occasions that brought City silverware: from the 2010-11 FA Cup final in which he was named Man of the Match, to the 6-1 at Old Trafford to setting up Sergio Aguero's winner against Queens Park Rangers last year, which delivered the club's first league title in 44 years.

In losing Balotelli, the one concern Roberto Mancini had was that this leaves him with three bona fide strikers (assuming John Guidetti -- who in any case still has everything to prove in the Premier League -- won't be able to contribute straightaway after his injury) which might be a bit light in the run-in.

Milan got themselves someone who, at worst, provides a huge psychological lift in the short term, and that alone can make the difference between qualifying for the Champions League -- which seemed unthinkable not so long ago -- or Europa League next season. At best, they have a blue-chip superstar who could become one of the best players in the world. Sure, in the long term there's a worst-case scenario too, because, with Balotelli, you never know.

But the numbers make sense. He took a pay cut down to $11.7 million in basic salary (plus bonuses). That's manageable, especially when you consider that he fits into the salary slot vacated by Pato, who joined Corinthians last month. Indeed, all but $7 million of Balotelli's fee is covered by the Pato sale. What's more, Milan's payment will be spread over five installments of $6.75 million each, improving the short-term cash flow. Given that Pato started just 10 league games in the past 18 months, it's not hard to argue that Milan came out well ahead. Between the injury-ravaged Pato and Balotelli, who's the better long-term bet?

His arrival also lends credibility to the club's statement about building through youth. All of a sudden, Milan's frontline of Stephan El Shaarawy, Balotelli and M'Baye Niang -- average age of just 20 -- looks legitimate. (Not to mention it's also a barbershop fantasy.)

Sure, there are caveats, starting with the fact that Balotelli isn't even the most volatile out of the three (that would be Niang). Or that Niang may not turn out to be all he's cracked up to be. And there are knock-on effects. What happens now to Giampaolo Pazzini, who didn't come cheap over the summer? And what of Kevin-Prince Boateng -- can he work hard enough to be a full-time central midfielder?

But these are outweighed by the potential. Balotelli may be a gamble, but, at those conditions, he's a calculated risk and one worth taking.

There is little question that it makes sense for the player himself. At City he was now fourth choice behind Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko. He was not -- and could not be -- as big a priority for Mancini as he had been before. Especially since the City manager's own future after this season isn't exactly cast-iron.

Claudio Villa/Getty ImagesYouth is served: Balotelli will join M'Baye Niang and Stephan El Shaarawy, a front line with an average age of just 20.

Balotelli wasn't lonely or unhappy in Manchester off the pitch; quite the opposite, but -- clearly -- there's no place like home. He has swapped short-term cash (though let's face it, when you make that much money, it's not a massive sacrifice; in fact, you wonder why more players don't do it) for playing time on a different stage. At 22, it's the right thing to do.

As the journalist Stefano Olivari put it, “he will now go the way of Antonio Cassano [who wasted some of the best years of his career and never fulfilled his early promise, despite his recent revival] or he will go play in Lionel Messi's ballpark [or close to it].”

Whatever happens, there are no more excuses.

There's one other winner in all this. Perhaps the only one who will come out ahead, regardless. That would be Mino Raiola. The restaurateur-turned-precocious super-agent -- at 25 he brokered the transfer of Denis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk to Inter, one of the biggest in the world at the time -- was the architect of every facet of this deal. He persuaded City to drop their price -- originally $50 million -- Milan to raise their offer, and Balotelli to turn his back on $7 million in guaranteed money.

How does he do it? Who knows?

Remember, this is also the guy who prised Paul Pogba away from Manchester United on a free transfer, persuaded Juventus to make Pavel Nedved their second most expensive player ever and, of course, somehow masterminded every one of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's many -- and increasingly lucrative -- transfers, most of them improbable. Could anyone else have pushed Barca to swap Samuel Eto'o plus $50 million for Ibrahimovic and Maxwell (what a coincidence, another Raiola client) and then get the Catalans to give him a mega-contract on Messi-type money? And then, just twelve months later, concoct a move whereby Barcelona sold Ibrahimovic back to Milan on a loan-plus-buyback deal worth $32.5m?

There's no way to say for sure, but you wonder to what degree the events of the past two months contributed to all this: Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi calling Balotelli a “rotten apple” who would “never” join his club, Balotelli taking legal action against City over his fines (and then withdrawing the lawsuit), his heavily photographed set-to with Mancini during training, maybe even the silly camouflage car and his insistence on driving it everywhere (including to places where United fans could see it and urinate on it). Are they all little pieces in a puzzle aimed at a single goal: putting together a deal in which nobody feels ripped off? You sort of feel that if Raiola ever gets bored with his millions he could write a book aimed at MBA types on the art of negotiation.

Remember Michael Scott of “The Office” fame and his “win-win-win-win” negotiation? That's what this looks like, at least for now.

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