Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

Mario Balotelli to Milan: Where whimsy may finally meet greatness

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Mario is leaving Manchester, if AC Milan’s to be believed. The whimsical Manchester City striker, brought to Eastlands two and a half years ago, is on his way to Milan ahead of a Wednesday physical. If passed, the exam will be the last step before a return home. For a $31.5 million fee (that could climb after performances bonuses), the Rossoneri will get the 22-year-old Italian international on a deal that’s said to run until 2017.

One of the most talented strikers in the world, Balotelli gave the world a glimpse of his game-defining potential with two Euro 2012 semifinal goals that led Italy to an upset victory of pre-tournament co-favorites Germany. In 75 appearances for Manchester City, the versatile striker has scored 30 all-competition goals, including 17 in 35 games last season. Bought from Inter Milan for $30 million in the summer of 2010, Balotelli has been a productive if mercurial presence for the English champions.

(MORE: Mario Balotelli’s top moments of madness)

It’s a label Balotelli’s earned off the field and on, his three years in Manchester having affirmed one of the more notorious reputations in world soccer. While most who’ve covered him closely describe a mischievous and mostly harmless character, the list of high-profile incidents linked to Sicily-born attacker have endowed him with a comical fame. Perhaps the most emblematic incident came in October 2011 when Balotelli set his house on fire after igniting fireworks in a bathroom. In a game the next day, Balotelli celebrated a goal by lifting his jersey to reveal a t-shirt which read “why always me?” – a reference to the media attention he attracts. Balotelli later became a firework safety ambassador for Great Manchester.

source:  Among other famous anecdotes, Balotelli crashed a car soon after his Manchester arrival only to be found with near-$8,000 in cash on him when police came to investigate the incident. He was photographed in the company of Mafia members during his first spell in Italy, and out of curiosity, he has made unsolicited visits to prisons. Closer to the field, Balotelli’s immense talents have been mitigated by confrontations with coaches, brow-furrowing behavior like the ball heel shot that saw him pulled from a preseason game in Los Angeles, and a series of training ground fights with teammates, including captain Vincent Kompany.

Amid whimsy and volatility is a player who possesses an elite array of talents – the type of gifts that lead clubs like City and Milan to pay transfer fees that would be the records for near-every club in the world. His supreme technical skills endow him with an enviable first touch, one which, combined with his 6’2″ frame, allows him to play as a target forward. But his speed and athleticism have seen him spend time in wide positions, with a brilliant ball-striking ability making him a threat from distance in open play as well as from dead balls. There is a reason why people like Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini continue to find room in their teams for “Super Mario.”

His tendency to constantly defy his antics and win back playing time is something that’s frustrated critics who decry Balotelli’s fickle antics. Having already put in five-and-a-half seasons between Internazionale and City, many understandably see the talented striker as a seasoned if still maturing player. How many 22-year-olds are professional soccer players? (A lot.) And how many leverage their talent for such selfish pursuits? (One.) Well-compensated by the deal that took him to Manchester, it’s not unfair for onlookers — particularly, City fans — to expect more from somebody for whom greatness is only a mental tweak away.

source: Getty ImagesIt bears reminding that not all 22-year-olds are created the same. Balotelli’s past is one of relative turmoil. An impoverished family of Ghanian immigrants burdened by medical bills from Balotelli’s early childhood health problems gave him up to foster care when he was two years old. The biological family eventually faded out of his life, leaving a Sicilian-born foster child of African descent to be raised by a Jewish-Italian foster family in Brescia. For many familiar with Balotelli’s story, the player’s personality reflects a type of extended adolescence born of early childhood uncertainties.

Now Balotelli is Massimiliano Allegri’s pleasure and problem – the newest piece of what could be an incredibly dynamic if but maturing attack. Twenty-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy has been the Italian season’s breakout star, his 15 goals from mostly a wide-left position trailing only Napoli’s Edinson Cavani for the league’s lead. On the right, 18-year-old M’Baye Niang has seen more time of late, though the summer acquisition from Caen has yet to notch his first Serie A goal. Together, the trio gives Allegri a collection of players who will be among the most fearsome one-on-one talents in the league, their speed and athleticism allowing the Rossoneri to attack with defense-collapsing talents from all angles.

In reality, a player like Bojan Krkic will likely need to be mixed in to provide a more creative presence in possession. And Milan also have Giampaolo Pazzini and (for now) Robinho in the squad. For a team the cleared their shelves of talent this offseason, Milan suddenly have an enviable collection of quality attackers, even if the best of them are still 22 or younger.

All of them are going to be overshadowed by Balotelli now. Having transcended pop curiosity to semi-national hero this summer, Balotelli becomes the preeminent figure in the team, if not the league. If Allegri gets more out of a player who’s rejoining the club he supported in his youth, $31.5 million will prove a reasonable price for somebody so talented. And it’s a move that always seemed inevitable when

Whether this move sees Balotelli fulfill his potential, well, that’s not up to Allegri. When Mario decides to be great, he’ll be great.

West Ham loses ex-Hammer of the Year Cresswell for four months

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Aaron Cresswell was one of the stalwarts of the last two Premier League campaigns, a good crosser capable of lung-busting runs and the occasional brilliant shot.

So it’s a significant blow for West Ham United to be without him for the next four months.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Cresswell has played in 75 of the Hammers’ 76 PL matches since arriving from Ipswich Town in 2014, and was injured in a 50/50 play against Karlsruher SC this weekend.

He may not need surgery to repair the knee ligaments, but is out nonetheless.

From WHUFC.com:

Head of Medical and Sports Science Stijn Vandenbroucke explained that Cresswell had undergone a scan and will consult a specialist in central London early next week. The medical team will then take a decision whether or not the defender requires surgery.

“Whatever course of action we decide to take, Aaron faces a period of rest, followed by treatment and rehabilitation and he will be out for a period of between three and four months,” said Vandenbroucke.

Left back isn’t a position of strength for most teams, and West Ham doesn’t look to be an exception.
Vandenbroucke also issued an update on Manuel Lanzini, saying the club won’t know his status until the attacker returns from Argentina duty. Lanzini was injured with Argentina’s Olympic team while preparing for the Games in Rio.

 

Borchers ruptures achilles tendon, leaving Timbers without best back

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10:  Nat Borchers #7 of Portland Timbers passes the ball against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the first half of their MLS match at StubHub Center on April 10, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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FOX analyst Stu Holden said it right after it happened, and it’s true: Nat Borchers has torn his achilles tendon and is out for the season.

The Portland Timbers back with the big burly beard was injured late in the first half, and had to be stretchered off the pitch. Amobi Okugo took his place for the rest of the match, which finished 2-1 to the Galaxy.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

It’s a big blow for the Timbers, whose regular season struggles are an annual occurrence. The 2015 MLS Champions are currently in the West’s seventh position, and Borchers has been one of their best players in each of the last two seasons.

Borchers is 35, and in his second season with the Oregon set after 211 appearances for Real Salt Lake.

The achilles is a brutal injury to return from at any age. Whenever, he’s done Borchers will exit MLS in the select company of winning an MLS Cup for at least two different teams in separate decades (2009-RSL, 2015-PDX).

Aubameyang admits there’s one club that could move him: Real Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is tackled by Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund at the Emirates Stadium on November 26, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is among the best strikers in the world, and somehow doesn’t get as much praise as his peers.

If he ever gets his dream transfer, that would certainly change.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Aubameyang, 27, is contracted to Borussia Dortmund until 2020, but admitted there’s a club that could make him antsy.

The reigning African Player of the Year — he of the 39 goals in 46 matches last season — is loving his time at Borussia Dortmund. That said, Real Madrid.

From EUROSport:

“The only club to leave Borussia Dortmund for is Real Madrid. But not now.

“Sometime I want to play for Real Madrid, which is one of my big goals in my career. But at the moment everything is great.”

Aubameyang could approach otherworldly numbers next season — we’re thinking 50-plus goals — with the additions of Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle to BVB’s already strong squad (which did lose Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels this offseason).

And with Ousmane Dembele in the fold and looking very good, perhaps BVB is prepared to reap the rewards of an Aubameyang sale after this season?

Big day in Stoke: Potters capture Joe Allen and Egyptian prodigy

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Stoke City got one for now and another for the future on Monday, announcing the purchase of Joe Allen from Liverpool and Ramadan Sobhi from Al Alhy.

Allen, 26, had been with the Reds since 2012 after more than a decade in the ranks of Swansea City. The midfielder helped Wales into the semifinals of EURO 2016.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Swansea was linked with matching Stoke’s bid, but Allen moves onto a new home at the Britannia Stadium.

From Stoke City’s site:

Chief Executive Tony Scholes said: “Joe is a player that Mark has admired for a considerable amount of time. Therefore when we became aware of the possibility of bringing him to the Club it was something that we were determined to do.

Sobhi, 19, is a lesser known entity full of promise. At 19, he already had six caps and a goal for Egypt, and has made 71 appearances with 17 goals for Al Alhy in the Egyptian Premier League.

The fee could reach $7 million with incentives.

From Stoke City’s site:

“We are absolutely delighted to have signed a player of Ramadan’s undoubted quality and potential. He’s a special young talent who is excited about the prospect of making an impact in the Premier League and we’re looking forward to giving him that platform.”

Stoke has quietly been amassing assets for some time, and made a strong push last season before finishing ninth. If Allen can combine well with Giannelli Imbula, perhaps Stoke can continue its rise up the PL pecking order.