Reds can be title contenders if they tame Balotelli
Brendan Rodgers denied it on Aug 3. Mario Balotelli confirmed it yesterday.
If nothing else, the impending £16 million ($33m) transfer of the controversial Italian forward to Liverpool is proof that you should never believe anything from anyone in football.
It is, of course, much more than that.
It's an unexpected variable in what is expected to be a four-way tussle for the title.
Balotelli could make or break this team. That's why it's also a huge statement of faith in Rodgers from the Liverpool board.
John W Henry and his consortium have been cautious with the Northern Irishman, using a "transfer panel" of senior figures to suggest and analyse potential transfer targets.
A move for Balotelli would not have been a rushed decision.
They know how good he is as a player. They also know how volatile he is as a person.
And they believe that Rodgers can tame him. And why not?
After all, when Daniel Sturridge first arrived at Liverpool, there were serious doubts about his personality.
Rodgers, whose doubts had actually derailed an earlier bid for him, took a chance and it paid off.
Sturridge was England's first-choice centre forward at the last World Cup.
Luis Suarez is a more complicated matter.
While some would say that his bite in Brazil was proof that Rodgers had failed to change him, you might also argue that Suarez's prolific goalscoring record and Player of the Year Award were proof that he had at least harnessed him.
And a 300 per cent increase in transfer value over three years is hardly a failure.
What must always be remembered in any discussion of Balotelli is that, like Suarez and Sturridge, he is a player of genuine class.
He's nerveless in front of goal, something exemplified by his astonishing record from the penalty spot.
It wasn't until September last year that he actually missed one, ending a run of 26 successful conversions.
There is no club in the world that wouldn't want to take advantage of that sort of composure.
He is also one of those rare forwards who manages to combine pace and power.
No defence can guarantee it would not be outrun by him, and no defender can be sure of outmuscling him.
On a technical level, he is of the highest order and he is brave enough to try the sort of tricks that other players wouldn't even consider.
The problem is that he cannot always be relied upon to do these things to order.
When Balotelli has a poor game, it will be extremely poor.
His flicks will be wayward, his head will drop and his frustrations will come out in the way he fights for the ball.
His World Cup campaign this summer was actually a very useful microcosm of his career.
He was pivotal in the game against England, ambitious but unsuccessful against Costa Rica, and then he was booked for an outrageous challenge on Alvaro Pereira against Uruguay and withdrawn at half-time.
But, if this gamble works, and Balotelli settles, then forget about those cautious predictions of a battle for fourth place: Liverpool will be right up there with Manchester City and Chelsea.
This is a player who is capable of the unexpected, and indeed it could be argued that he is incapable of anything else.
There can be no replacing Suarez. Barcelona would not have spent so much money on him after all of his problems, if there were other players of his calibre available.
But Balotelli could be an X-factor, something for which no opponent can prepare.
It's impossible to say whether or not this is a dream move or a nightmare-in-waiting.
It has the potential to be either.
But, without another striker of significant ability, it's hard to see Liverpool keeping pace with Manchester City and Chelsea.
With a striker of Balotelli's calibre, they could conceivably overtake them.
That's why they've taken the gamble. That's why they've backed Rodgers' management and that's why, whether it works or not, this is going to be a fascinating season at Anfield.
Number of league goals Balotelli scored for AC Milan in 25 starts last season, the biggest haul of his career.
Number of yellow cards he acquired for Milan last season - also the biggest haul of his career.
Chances created for Milan last season - a total that would still put him sixth on the Reds' overall list.
Percentage of shots that hit the target for Milan last season - identical to Daniel Sturridge's.
Balotelli has a lower minute-to-goal ratio at AC Milan than both Sturridge (136) and Suarez (138) in the Premier League.
The average number of shots Balotelli took for Milan per game last season, making him the most frequent shooter in Serie A. Only Suarez (5.5) had more in England last season.
CAR CRASH (August 2010)
Just days after signing for Manchester City, Balotelli crashed his Audi R8 en route to the club's training ground. Balotelli was found carrying £5,000 ($10,400) in cash then and, when police asked why, he reportedly replied: "Because I am rich."
DART-THROWING INCIDENT (March 2011)
Balotelli got into trouble after he threw a dart at a Man City youth team player. No one was hurt in the incident and he escaped punishment.
FIREWORK INCIDENT (October 2011)
The Italian had another run-in with the emergency services after a firework was set off in the bathroom of his home, triggering a fire. The next day, he scored in the Manchester Derby and celebrated by revealing a T-shirt which read: "Why always me?"
BREAKING CURFEW (December 2011)
Balotelli broke a 48-hour curfew imposed by City, visiting a curry house ahead of a match against Chelsea.
RICHARDS CLASH (December 2011)
Just days after Balotelli's curfew lapsed, he again attracted negative headlines after pictures emerged of a training ground bust-up with teammate Micah Richards.
PARKER CLASH (January 2012)
Balotelli was charged with violent conduct by the Football Association and subsequently handed a four-match ban, after appearing to stamp on the head of Tottenham's Scott Parker during a Premier League match.
MANCINI CLASH (January 2013)
Balotelli clashed with former manager Roberto Mancini during training, with the pair pulled apart by coaches. - Wire Services.
Pool agree $33m deal for Balotelli
AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli is on the verge of a move to Liverpool.
At press time, the Reds had agreed a £16 million ($33m) fee for the Italy international, with the player still in negotiations with the English club over personal terms.
The 24-year-old forward had already said his farewell ahead of the deal.
Balotelli, quoted by Sky Italia, said: "It's my last day at Milanello (club training ground)."
Earlier, the Rossoneri announced through their official television channel that they were in negotiations with the Reds over a permanent deal.
Balotelli's agent, Mino Raiola, was reported to have flown to England to push forward discussions between his client and the Reds for a £92,000-a-week, five-year contract.
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said that Brendan Rodgers will know exactly what to do to get the very best out of Balotelli, thanks to his time managing Luis Suarez.
He told Sky Sports: "Brendan has had plenty of practice with Luis, I suppose.
"The main thing for any player is what they do on the pitch. Both of those players had issues off the pitch, but I think it's fair to say Suarez did a lot more on the pitch.
"You will always get a little bit more freedom if you're producing on the pitch, that's the main thing for any player.
"Balotelli is Italy's No. 1 striker, and you want to see good players here. Liverpool do need a striker."
However, Carragher warned the Italy international, who has scored 88 career goals in 222 games, that he might face a fight to get into the Liverpool team.
"Would Balotelli be the final piece of the jigsaw? Would he make the starting 11 if everyone was fit and firing? Who knows?" said Carragher.
"Daniel Sturridge has got 36 goals in 50 games for Liverpool and, at this moment, he is the main man up front.
"Would Brendan then accommodate another striker... like he did with Luis Suarez?
"He has lots of options now, Brendan Rodgers, and I don't think he will play the same team too often, so they do need those options."
- Wire Services.