By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
When Mario Balotelli arrived at Milan, he spoke as though they had saved him from his own personal hell.
"I will miss being at Carrington with my Manchester City team-mates, the manager and the fans. In everything else I am happy that I have left England.
"I don’t like the press, the weather, the food, or the driving.
"I don’t know if I maybe can go back in the future, but right now I want to play here."
Just 18 months later, though, he was ready to embrace all of those negative aspects of life in England once more in a bid to end his spell with the Rossoneri. He was meant to be coming home when he joined the club he had supported as a youngster.
This was supposed to be for the benefit of both the player and the organisation, but in the end it suited nobody and Balotelli couldn't get out quick enough. Now he is a Liverpool player, and the club of his heart have only €20 million to show for it.
So wrong did the transfer turn out to be for Milan that they sold their best player on the cheap. And this at a time when they should have been protecting their assets or getting the highest price possible for their stock.
As a buying club, the Diavolo was one of the best for a very long time. Top stars such as Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, George Weah, Kaka and Andriy Shevchenko were brought in to maintain their standing as one of the world’s front-runners.
But now they are neither a buying club nor a selling club. Selling clubs generally don’t sell at all unless they get the right price. Milan are stuck in no man’s land. They have failed to get the best price for any of their big assets in recent years.
Andrea Pirlo was sent away on a free transfer. Thiago Silva was signed up to a new contract before being sold for less than the price they had originally rejected. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sold for just €21m on the back of a 35-goal season in which he’d proved to be the club’s single most important player.
And now, the last piece of family silver has been flogged at a knock-down price when the club desperately needs money to strengthen its hopes of returning to the top of the Italian game.
|POTENTIAL REPLACEMENTS | Who might Milan sign?
|Alvaro Negredo||Manchester City||€24m|
|*Figures from transfermarkt|
How did things go so wrong between Balotelli and Milan that a club who have been struggling to make ends meet throughout the Financial Fair Play era thought it a good idea to allow their biggest asset to leave for a fee that does absolutely nothing for them.
Signing Balotelli was meant to be the beginning of a new Milan, with the Italy striker as the centrepiece of a more austere approach. But all it did was underline the club’s cluelessness in the market.
Jackson Martinez has been mentioned as a potential replacement up front, so too Fernando Torres, Alvaro Negredo and Mattia Destro. But are any of those players really a possibility when Adriano Galliani et al have dealt so badly in recent times? Why would any of them want to join a mid-table Serie A outfit with a mid-table Serie A mentality?
The Ibrahimovic money was wasted on the likes of Giampaolo Pazzini and Francesco Acerbi. Does anybody truly trust the Balotelli cash to be used any more wisely?
Sure, they have saved some money on the striker’s €4m annual base salary, but they will need to match that at the very least if they are to attract a player to take them forward on the pitch.
The sale of Balotelli is an admission that they could not manage a talented but troubled player. But more than that, it proves that Milan are no longer swimming with the big fish and neither are they capable of using the market to work for them.
It is hard to know exactly where Milan go from here.