Manchester City believe AC Milan could come in with a €30m (£24m) bid for Mario Balotelli this month – despite their owner Silvio Berlusconi dismissing the player as a "rotten apple" – and would leap at the chance to sell him.
City believe none of Berlusconi's comments are to be taken at face value because he will contradict himself from one day to the next. With manager Roberto Mancini privately finally resigned to the fact he will never convince the 22-year-old that he is throwing away his career, a bid from Milan – Balotelli's boyhood team – would allow City to cut their losses on a £22m signing and his £170,000-a-week wages.
City have been aware for some time the Serie A side would need to jettison Robinho or Alexandre Pato to pave the way for a Balotelli bid. Pato arrived in Sao Paulo yesterday, having completed a move to Corinthians after a deal in which the Brazilian side paid €15m (£12m) for 60pc of the player's economic rights.
The Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, said Robinho would not leave, after a deal which would have returned the "homesick" former City player to Santos fell through.
Mancini's willingness to sanction Balotelli's departure demonstrates that the two latest controversies to have beset him – the threat to take City to a Premier League tribunal and last week's training-ground bust-up with Scott Sinclair and the manager – have pushed things to a point of no return.
Publicly, Mancini insisted last week that the conflagration, in full view of the long-lens cameras which pictured him with his head in his hands, had not persuaded him to cut his losses. Balotelli would get "100 chances" to change his ways, he said last Friday.
But Mancini has accepted that he simply cannot predict what Balotelli will do next and that he can have no control over external influences in his private life, whom he feels are leading the player astray.
The City manager is turning his attentions to aspects of the side he can control, with a central defender being the single asset he will attempt to persuade his board to add this month.
Mancini has been told there will be no spending in this window unless an emergency situation crops up and he feels Kolo Toure's departure to the Africa Cup of Nations, combined with Micah Richards' long-term knee injury, does fall into that category.
It leaves him with only Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Joleon Lescott at centre back. Mancini, who tried to buy Liverpool's Daniel Agger in the summer, does not feel a loan deal will be adequate as the players of the quality he requires are not available in the loan market.
Mancini, who is convinced that his side can compete for the title if they are within reach of Manchester United at the end of next month, has received Sergio Aguero back from Italy, where he has been undergoing treatment on a hamstring tear.
Mancini has asked his most trusted physician, 73-year-old Sergio Vigano, based at Monferrato, Piedmont, to help Aguero back to fitness. Mancini first met Vigano when the physio worked with him on the muscular problems he experienced as a 17-year-old player at Sampdoria.
He was physio to Mancini first at the Genoa club, then followed him to Lazio and Inter. More recently Vigano came over for the title run-in last season and treated Pablo Zabaleta, Kompany and Samir Nasri.
City's David Silva has insisted that his side have a tough challenge ahead to haul back United's seven-point lead, but supported Mancini's view that the next six weeks are pivotal to the title defence.
"It won't be easy, but our challenge is to be back level with Manchester United by the end of February," Silva said. "Last year we saw how they were in front by quite a lot of points, and we won the league, so it can be done.
"Our goal this season was the Champions League. Perhaps being knocked out of Europe had an influence (on our title campaign). But now we need to react and to demonstrate that City are the English champions and intend to remain so. There is a long way to go, but we can't allow United any more advantage."
Gareth Barry feels its time City made their mark in north London, as they aim for a first league win away to the Gunners since 1975.
"I wasn't aware it had been so long," the England midfield said. " Football is like that sometimes but 37 years is extraordinary. Records like that are rare but are there to be broken.
"We have to go to the Emirates, play as well as we know we are capable of and see if we can put an end to our poor run of league results on their ground." (© Independent News Service)