Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho and Mario Balotelli close in on Anfield exit
Liverpool are in talks to offload two of their highest-profile outcasts, with Mario Balotelli and Mamadou Sakho the subject of firm inquiries.
Sakho is wanted on loan by Premier League side Stoke City, while Balotelli is attracting attention from Nice in France and Sion in Switzerland.
Liverpool would like a permanent deal to sell their Italian striker, but centre-half Sakho’s move to a domestic rival would be temporary.
Balotelli’s high-profile agent, Mino Raiola, has spent the summer trying to find a new club for his client, being well aware his Anfield career is over.
Liverpool would like to recoup some of the £16 million they paid two years ago. Nice’s approach is at an early stage, but there is growing hope at Anfield that Balotelli will be moved on before the transfer window closes on Aug 31.
Earlier this summer it seemed Balotelli was heading to the Chinese Super League. While that has not materialised, there is a Far East element to Nice’s interest. The French club were recently taken over by a consortium of Chinese and American investors and may see Balotelli as the kind of high-profile addition to elevate the club’s position.
Sion president Christian Constantin has also confirmed that the club are in talks with Liverpool but was cautious about the chances of success. “I confirm that we are speaking, negotiations are under way, now of course I cannot know if it will succeed or not,” he said.
Balotelli spent last season on loan to AC Milan but his former club elected not to retain his services.
He has been on Merseyside since the start of pre-season, but manager Jürgen Klopp has shown no inclination to offer the enigmatic Italian a fresh chance.
Klopp has plenty of options in attack with Sadio Mané, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings, Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino.
Balotelli is earning £80,000 a week as an expensive reserve so the Merseyside club will be hoping the French and Swiss interest firms up into a substantial offer.
Sakho, meanwhile, has been offered an escape route by Mark Hughes and the Stoke manager is hopeful of concluding a deal before the transfer deadline.
Sakho is free to leave Liverpool on a temporary basis after falling out of favour with Klopp.
Klopp ordered the 26-year-old home from Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States for disciplinary reasons, while Sakho has missed the start of the season with a heel injury.
It was the latest controversy in a difficult year for the defender, after he was initially banned for failing a drugs test before Uefa exonerated him during the summer.
Liverpool have stressed they have no plans to offload Sakho permanently but want to arrange a loan move for him to build up his fitness.
Hughes is determined to bring in defensive cover, with Stoke conceding four goals against Manchester City on Saturday, and Sakho has emerged as a realistic target.
Stoke have endured a frustrating summer, with only Joe Allen and Ramadan Sobhi arriving so far, but want to make at least two more signings.
They have received no encouragement in their pursuit of Manchester United’s Phil Jones but are continuing to monitor Saido Berahino’s situation at West Bromwich Albion. Hughes has admitted a new forward remains a priority. He said: “That’s an area of the side we want to improve and we are still in the market to try and bring in a player of quality.
“There’s been times, not only here, but in seasons gone by, where we lacked the killer element to our good play.
“There are a lot of good things we do up to a point, but we just haven’t got that final ball.”