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?

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfield unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.

Three German organizers of 2006 World Cup indicted for tax evasion

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Three German organizers of the 2006 World Cup have been charged with tax evasion linked to a payment to FIFA.

German news agency dpa reported that Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Horst R. Schmidt confirmed Wednesday they are indicted by Frankfurt prosecutors in a long-running investigation.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

They are accused of falsifying tax returns on behalf of the Germany soccer federation (DFB) in 2006. The DFB has already paid 19.2 million euros ($22.4 million) in back taxes. All three deny the charges, which were first reported by German daily Bild

The allegations are also being investigated by Swiss federal prosecutors and FIFA’s ethics committee. They have targeted German soccer great Franz Beckenbauer, who led the 2006 tournament organizing committee.

Beckenbauer, Zwanziger and Niersbach were members of FIFA’s executive committee in turn from 2007 through 2016.

In 2016, the DFB published an inquiry report into a complex payments trail including 6.7 million euros ($7.8 million) to FIFA in April 2005. Zwanziger and the DFB claimed the money was for a World Cup opening gala and therefore tax-deductible.

However, the payment went through FIFA and ended in a Swiss account belonging to former Adidas chief Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who died in 2009.

The inquiry report did not rule out, but could not prove, that votes were bought when Germany beat a Nelson Mandela-supported South Africa bid for the hosting rights in a 12-11 vote of FIFA executive committee members in 2000.

Swiss prosecutors said in 2016 they had opened a criminal proceeding against the four German officials the previous year, on suspicion of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement and misappropriation. That case spun off from a wider Swiss investigation of suspected corruption linked to FIFA and World Cup hosting votes that is ongoing.

Niersbach lost his seat on FIFA’s ruling committee when he was banned for one year for failing to disclose possible unethical conduct.

The various investigations have tarnished the reputation of the 2006 World Cup that was a popular success in the host nation, which called it the “Summer Fairytale.”