Balotelli

Mario Balotelli edging closer to shock $26 million Liverpool switch

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In the past 24 hours Mario Balotelli’s potential move to Liverpool has gone from ‘surely not…’ to ‘oh my word, I think this actually might happen.’

On Wednesday evening at ProSoccerTalk, we brought you the story that Liverpool and AC Milan were reportedly in talks over one of the most charismatic players the game has ever seen.

[RELATED: Liverpool, AC Milan in Balotelli talks]

Now, those talks have intensified and Balotelli, 24, is said to be closing in on a move back to the Premier League with Liverpool. The enigmatic Italian joined AC Milan for $30 million last summer but is said to want a move back to England, with a switch to Anfield now a real possibility. Liverpool and Milan have reportedly agreed a $26 million fee for Balotelli, with Milan stating that Balotelli has said “goodbye to his teammates” after training and is now on his way out of the club. ProSoccerTalk have been in contact with Liverpool for an update on the situation but have not received any comment.

Despite denying a move for Balotelli all summer, it seem as though Brendan Rodgers has stepped up his move to sign a top-class replacement for Luis Suarez. Following Liverpool’s opening day win over Southampton on Sunday, Rodgers confirmed that “I do still think we need another striker” and that “it is something that we will look at, but it will depend on the availability of one. We will search through to the end of the transfer window.”

[RELATED: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

Most of the leading newspapers in Italy have already said their goodbyes to the Italian international, below you can see the headline from Corriere dello sport, which simply says “Mario for sale” across the front page.

That claim Balotelli is heading to Liverpool and will be paid in excess of $5 million per year, as he doesn’t want to play in the Europa League with AC Milan and wants to be in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool can offer that after their second place finish last season but does manager Rodgers really want to risk tampering with the great team spirit present at Anfield?

Balotelli is a terrific player, we all know that. However bizarre incidents on and off the field have marred his career so far. The striker spent three seasons in England with Manchester City, becoming a cult hero among the Citizens’ fans and scoring 30 goals in 80 games as City won their first league title since 1968.

From the ‘Why Always Me?” shirt, to being allergic to grass, to shooting fireworks out of his bathroom window and handing out large wads of cash to homeless people on the streets of Manchester, Balotelli’s legend began to grow in Manchester. Then in 2013 he signed for AC Milan back in his homeland and has since scored 30 goals in 54 games, while becoming Italy’s main attacking threat. Balotelli scored the winner for Italy in their opening game of the 2014 World Cup vs. England plus he shone at the European Championships in 2012 as the Azzurri reached the final.

If Rodgers can get into Balotelli’s head and tap into his growing maturity levels, Liverpool may get a player who can link up superbly with Daniel Sturridge and help bring 20-plus goals to the team. In many ways, Balotelli is the missing piece of the puzzle for Liverpool.

Everyone is asking the same question: will Liverpool really take a gamble on him?

UCL AT HALF: Man City, Celtic in thriller; Walcott driving Arsenal

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  David Silva of Manchester City runs with the ball uner pressure from Nir Bitton of Celtic during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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The goals have been flying in around Europe, as the UEFA Champions League treks on through the group stage with an octet of Wednesday games.

[ LIVE: UCL scores ]

Celtic 2-2 Manchester City

The Scots have opened up a pair of leads through Moussa Dembele‘s third-minute redirection of a Erik Sviatchenko attempt and a Raheem Sterling own goal, but Fernandinho has one for City and Sterling made amends with a goal of his own to level things in a thriller at Celtic Park.

Arsenal 2-0 Basel

A Theo Walcott brace has the Gunners rolling at the Emirates in a match which pits Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka against older brother Taulant Xhaka.

Borussia Monchengladbach 1-0 Barcelona

Well, well, well… the middle Hazard brother, Thorgan, had staked the German hosts to a 1-0 lead over Lionel Messi-less Barcelona with his 34th minute tally.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich

Yannick Carrasco has the hosts up at the Vicente Calderon, on a nice shot to boot.

Elsewhere
Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 PSG — Matuidi nabs equalizer
Napoli 1-0 Benfica — Hamsik scores for hosts
Besiktas 1-0 Dynamo Kyiv — Quaresma the scorer
FC Rostov 2-2 PSV Eindhoven — Two for Dmitri Poloz

LIVE, UCL group stage: Celtic-Man City, Arsenal-Basel, Atletico-Bayern

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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We have another packed slate of UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday as Groups A through D are in action across Europe.

[ LIVE: UCL scores ]

Manchester City head to Celtic and Pep Guardiola‘s boy can expect a cauldron of noise at Celtic Park, while Arsenal host Basel at the Emirates. Elsewhere a mouthwatering clashing takes place in the Spanish capital where Atletico Madrid host German giants Bayern Munich.

City will be hoping to avoid an upset ahead of their next two UCL games against Pep’s old side, Barcelona, while Arsene Wenger will look to build on Arsenal’s solid draw away at PSG in their Group A opener two weeks ago.

All matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, and you can follow all the action live as it happens by clicking on the link above.

Wednesday UCL schedule

Celtic vs. Manchester City
Arsenal vs. Basel
Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Barcelona
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Benfica
Besiktas vs. Dynamo Kyiv
FC Rostov vs. PSV Eindhoven

Men In Blazers podcast: Arsene Wenger on 20 years at Arsenal

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Roger Bennett
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Rog talks with Arsene Wenger about his 20 years as manager of Arsenal Football Club, the Premier League’s changing landscape, and what motivates him to continue.

Rog’s film, “Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger,” airs on NBCSN Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Vieira embracing life in New York City as NYCFC continue to flourish

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Patrick Vieira is making the most of life in New York City as he team continue to become a major player in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Latest MLS news ]

Born in Dakar, Senegal, Vieira explores New York in his spare time and often visits Harlem to eat in authentic African restaurants as he enjoys the rich cultural offerings of the Big Apple.

In his debut season as a head coach at the senior level, Vieria, 40, has already enjoyed plenty of success, leading New York City FC to the playoffs in Major League Soccer in just their second season as a franchise. His star is rising as a coach.

With impressive performances on the pitch from star names Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, plus youngsters Jack Harrison, Khiry Shelton and Steven Mendoza emerging, all is well at Yankee Stadium as Vieira and NYCFC prepare for the postseason.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk from a community event to promote healthy eating among children in Harlem, which Vieira attended alongside NYCFC’s Sporting Director Claudio Reyna, defender Jason Hernandez and Lampard, the former French national team captain revealed just how much importance he places on his team being an integral part of the NYC community.

“It is really important for us because we have some responsibility in the community as well,” Vieira said. “These kids are New York City FC fans and to get the chance to meet some of the players, to come to this event, it is really important and we know that New York is a big city with the five boroughs so it is important for the supporters to be involved in all of the five boroughs.”

As a second-year team, NYCFC has continued its impressive attendance records in MLS with an average crowd of over 26,000 in the Bronx making them the fourth best supported team in the league. They are always trying to find new ways to connect with the vibrant community they’ve only recently become a huge part of.

Speaking passionately about how he wants his team to not only win games but represent NYC in an authentic manner through their play on the pitch, it is clear Vieira feels at home in the hustle and bustle of the USA’s largest city.

“That is the aim. That is what we try to do, to represent New York City. I strongly believe that the city is really dynamic city, 24 hours a day there is something to do and this is how we want to represent the city,” Vieira said. “We want to be really offensive, really dynamic and play with a lot of energy. Of course it is not going to be easy but we need to find a way to do it because we want to represent the city.”

But how exactly does that mantra manifest itself on the pitch in their style of play?

“It is about attacking football, an attacking way of playing, it is scoring goals and I think at times we have done it quite while,” Vieira admitted. “It is also to play with a lot of energy, passion and for the players to give 100 percent. You can win the game, you can lose the game… but what is important is that when the players are on the field, they give everything.”

The pace and passion with which Vieira talks represents the city too. It is full of life and fast.

Vieira was speaking from Ginny’s Supper Club, located in Harlem, as esteemed chef Marcus Samuelsson hosted a “Healthy Hat Trick Cooking Class” for kids from East Harlem’s Lexington Academy. The aim of the event was to teach the children how to cook healthy meals for themselves and Vieira was enthused to connect with a future generation of NYCFC supporters.

“I believe we are in one of the most important places in New York, in Harlem. It is a really authentic place with authentic restaurants and authentic chef, one of the biggest chefs in the world. When you know his story to get to where he is now, for myself and the football club to be here is really important,” Vieira said. “When you look at the kids who are here, they love the game, of course, but I think it is important to explain to them that it is not only football. You can be a chef like Marcus who has been really successful and the interaction between the players, Marcus and the kids has been really good.”

Of course, the main reason Vieira is in New York is to continue his coaching education after excelling as a the leading man for Manchester City’s development squad from 2011-15. The former Arsenal, Juventus, Inter Milan and Man City midfielder who won the World Cup and European Championships with France is quietly going about his job and is not losing any focus on why he’s taken on a completely new challenge in MLS.

With a steely focus, he is eager to continue to get better each and every day.

“I’m visiting different places [in NYC] but I am here because of my job,” Vieira said. “My number one priority is to do well with the team and to be a better coach every single day. When I have a day off there is a few places I go to visit and of course Harlem is one of them. But I know why I am in New York. It is my priority to be a better coach.”

From the coaching side of things, his opening season in MLS couldn’t have been much better. Sure there’s been some speed bumps along the way but despite making the playoffs by beating the Chicago Fire last Friday in front of their home fans at Yankee Stadium and currently tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, Vieira wants more. Much more.

“We are in a really good period. We had some ups and downs during the season but to qualify for the playoffs was just a small step to what we want to do as a football club. We want to be successful. We want to win silverware. Of course being in the playoffs is a step up but it is just a small one compared to what we want to achieve.”

With New York City FC the top goalscorers in MLS with 55 through 31 regular season games, going into the pivotal final few matches of the regular season with the Conference title on the line, plus with the playoffs lurking, Vieira wants his side to stay true to their playing style despite some criticism about their defensive play this season.

Will the pressure situation of playoff soccer impact that outlook at all?

“What is important is to believe in ourselves. We managed to play some games really well to get to the playoffs but the playoffs is of course, win and you keep going, lose and you’re out. I want us to really focus on what we’ve been doing since the beginning of the season,” Vieira said. “I think we’ve had a clear philosophy of how we want to play and we have to stick to that philosophy and not try to do something that we didn’t try already and which didn’t work. I think our togetherness has helped us to be there and we just have to believe in that.”

Veterans Lampard, Villa and Pirlo will play a key role in the postseason and Vieira is counting on them to led the team.

“They have a lot of experience on the field and off the field, so that’s why they will help and be really important in the playoff time,” Vieira added. “I am really quite pleased because I have a really good mix between young players and experienced players and I think if we manage that well, we will give ourselves some more chances.”

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: David Villa #7 of New York City FC celebrates his first half goal with teamate Andrea Pirlo #21 againd the Toronto FC at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

In his debut season in MLS, there’s been widespread chatter about how impressive Vieira has seamlessly handled the challenge of moving to a new country, plus coaching in a new league while he is still developing himself as a coach.

When it comes to what Vieira expected of MLS, he has been pleasant surprised be all that he’s experienced in NYC, so far.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived but I am happily surprised because there are a lot of good players, it is really competitive and the atmosphere in the stadiums is really good. I have really enjoyed my experiences, so far.”