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Mario Balotelli to Liverpool: striker could face Manchester City on Monday

Liverpool agree to pay Milan £16m, holding talks with his agent to agree personal terms

By Andy Hampson

Mario Balotelli could play against former club Manchester City on Monday as Liverpool apparently move closer to signing the controversial striker.

Unsubstantiated but growing reports have suggested the Anfield club are in talks with the mercurial 24-year-old after agreeing a £16million fee with AC Milan.

Liverpool have not commented but Press Association Sport understands the Reds' interest in the player is genuine and firm.

Adding credence to the reports was a comment from Balotelli stating that Thursday would be his last day at the Rossoneri's Milanello training ground. Milan followed that later with a statement on their website revealing Balotelli had said his farewells to his team-mates.

Liverpool have been looking for a marquee striker to replace the departed Luis Suarez this summer but their interest in Balotelli represents a remarkable about-turn from three weeks ago.

When the Merseysiders played Milan in a friendly in the United States, manager Brendan Rodgers expressed admiration for Balotelli but "categorically" said he was not a target.

Recently, however, a move for QPR's Loic Remy has collapsed while interest in former Chelsea striker Samuel Eto'o has cooled and attempts to sign Radamel Falcao from Monaco seem unrealistic.

With new signing Rickie Lambert the only frontline support for Daniel Sturridge and the transfer deadline nearing, a move for Balotelli may have become more attractive.

Balotelli is a proven performer and scored 16 times for Milan last season, as well as Italy's winner in the World Cup opener against England in Manaus.

But the baggage that comes with him is considerable. His spell at City from summer 2010 to January last year was a whirlwind one, with occasional sparkling performances interspersed with volatility on the field and erratic behaviour off it.

His numerous misdemeanours famously included fireworks being set off in his bathroom, throwing a dart at a youth-team player and training-ground bust-ups with team-mates and manager Roberto Mancini.

On the positive side he played a key role in the 2011 FA Cup win and contributed to the following year's Premier League success, but he also hindered progress by accruing four red cards.

City eventually tired of the circus surrounding him and offloaded the former Inter Milan player to his boyhood club AC Milan, at a £6million loss, for £19million.

Remarkably, if discussions with Liverpool advance, he could be back at the Etihad Stadium next week as the Reds travel to Eastlands in the Barclays Premier League.

"It's my last day at Milanello," Balotelli said on Sky Italia, fuelling the speculation.

The Serie A club's website, www.acmilan.it, later reported: "Mario Balotelli left Milanello's sporting centre at 13.30, after saying goodbye to his team-mates.

"Before leaving the premises, the striker has said goodbye to members of Milan's press office."

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