MILAN and Juventus were last night both pushing to secure the services of Mario Balotelli from Manchester City in the next 48 hours, with the player's agent, who is now in England, significantly less emphatic about the prospects of him staying.
City held talks with Milan about Balotelli at the request of the Italian club, who offered around €20m (£17m) plus add-ons for the player. That does not meet City's valuation for the player whom they had not actively been seeking to sell, but the presence of two clubs vying for him does make an 11th-hour deal by the close of the transfer window on Thursday possible.
Despite rumours to the contrary, Balotelli travelled to London yesterday and was with the squad last night preparing to face Queen's Park Rangers in the Premier League tonight. But it appears that he may fly straight out of London to Milan, to talk to the Serie A club after the match at Loftus Road – after which the Italian clubs will have 48 hours to secure a late deal.
Balotelli's agent, Mino Raiola, did not rule out the prospect of a move taking place within the next 72 hours. He told The Independent last night: "Until now [the position] has not changed. He is not going there [to Milan]." Raiola declined to discuss the issue further and referred inquiries to City, though in previous conversations he has categorically ruled out a move for the 22-year-old.
City's focus on tonight's game, with a win required to keep the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United, means no developments are likely before its conclusion, though tomorrow could be a key day in the developing saga. Balotelli's family could not be reached for comment.
With Mancini reluctant to be reduced to three recognised strikers – Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko – City are demanding a premium price for the player, though a bid matching the £24m they laid out for him in August 2010 would be tempting. The only individual who has any hold over Balotelli is his mother, Sylvia, who lives in Brescia, an hour to the east of Milan. Few at City deny that her continuous presence would make his chances of succeeding at Milan far greater than in Manchester.
Milan's own resolve to make the transfer happen may have been stiffened by the decision of Didier Drogba to reject a move to San Siro in favour of Galatasaray. City are unlikely to accept a loan arrangement.
Balotelli's absence among the party of Manchester City players who gathered at Stockport station for the journey south yesterday set the rumour mill off but was not a cause for suspicion. But with stories rife about the future of the player, meaning was read into City coach Brian Kidd asking the striker for an autograph after training and Samir Nasri stopping to talk to Balotelli through the window of his camouflaged Bentley as he left City's Carrington training complex. The player's Alderley Edge home went on the rental market last week.
City are less than impressed with the public way in which Milan have conducted themselves over Balotelli, which all appears to be part of a strategy to secure a last-minute deal. The Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has said that "at today's price it's 99.5 per cent certain that he is not coming" – having initially declared the deal dead.