When Mario Balotelli returned to AC Milan on loan last summer, there was a hope amongst many at Liverpool that it might turn into a permanent move for the talented but frustrating 25-year-old striker. Things got off to a decent start, too, with Balotelli working hard in training and his coaches singing his praises.
Following a pair of injuries that largely sidelined the Italian frontman from the start of October through to the middle of January, though, it’s started to look a near certainty he will be returning to Liverpool in the summer. And that the club will then need to try once again to find a home, with another loan the likely outcome.
"Those who don’t sacrifice themselves for the team in the 94th minute won’t set foot on the field," said an annoyed Sinisa Mihajlovic following a 2-0 victory over Genoa on the Sunday when Balotelli failed to secure a third goal for the side after being introduced late in the second half for first choice striker Carlos Bacca.
"It wasn’t just Balotelli," added the AC Milan manager. "There were another two or three as well as him, and they know who I’m talking about. We had to win and we did, and it was a good performance and we hardly ever ran risks, but we should have scored a third goal and not been at risk [of conceding] at the end."
On either side of his spell on the sidelines, Balotelli has made 11 appearances for Milan this season, scoring two goals along the way. It works out to a goal every 200 minutes he’s been on the pitch—at least an improvement on the goal every 375 minutes he managed with Liverpool last year but hardly an impressive return.
Balotelli joined Liverpool in 2014 for £16M, with some suggesting that even if he didn’t pan out for the club, such a low fee for such a hugely talented player—even if that player had so far largely failed to deliver on his prodigious talent—made him a bargain, a potential reclamation project with massive upside and very little risk.
The thinking was that even if Balotelli failed to work out at Liverpool, somebody somewhere would pay a fee at least close to what Liverpool did to take him off their hands. With no other English clubs looking to gamble on him and Italian clubs mostly not rich enough to, though, that thinking has proven unfortunately misguided.
Nobody who could afford Balotelli’s transfer fee or wages was interested in taking him on a permanent deal last summer, and it looks likely to be the same this year. Barring a miracle turnaround at Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp, then, another loan spell at least partially subsidized by the club now seems almost certain.