Manchester City may be without their £23m striker Mario Balotelli for up to 10 weeks – a month longer than first feared – after the knee operation in Italy which concluded with a bizarre flirtation with Milan, the side he supported as a boy.
Balotelli was filmed shouting "Forza Milan" from his fourth floor hospital room last week, before undergoing keyhole surgery on the knee cartilage he damaged in the final moments of his City debut, in the Europa League play-off against Timisoara on 19 August. This unexpected gesture, which Balotelli made while dressed for surgery at the San Matteo hospital in Pavia, came after the Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, asked about the notion of Balotelli playing for his club one day, said: "I love the idea. One day, perhaps"
Balotelli's agent Mino Raiola has moved quickly to quash any idea that his client had ideas of an Italian return before his City career had even started, describing the striker as a "champion of banter". Raiola also said last week that, "Balotelli to Milan is only a fantasy that does not correspond to reality." He added: "The owner of Manchester City is an important character and now would be wrong to think of the future. Mario must keep a cool head and prove to be a big player in England, then after a few years we'll see. In the market you can never rule out anything, his move to Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus or a return to Inter. But talking today about it is wrong."
Balotelli has also moved to make his commitment to City quite clear. "I still haven't played for City yet," he said after emerging on crutches after his 20-minute operation under the care of Professor Franco Benazzo.
But City manager Roberto Mancini will certainly be looking for his player to make the kind of impression in Manchester that he has continued to do in Italy since his move from Internazionale last month. Soon after crashing his £120,000 Audi R8 in Manchester on 28 August, Balotelli returned to Italy for the summer bank holiday weekend where the Italian paparazzi lapped up his appearance with his model girlfriend Melissa Castagnoli at Milano Marittima, on the Adriatic coast north of Rimini.
Benazzo's prognosis suggests that Balotelli may be fit for City's trip to Blackpool next month, though it may be the visit to Wolves on 30 October before City fans see him again.
City begin what they hope will be a Europa League odyssey today, travelling for tomorrow night's game against Austrian champions FC Salzburg who have faced even more criticism of major investment than Mancini's side. The club was bought and rebranded by the Red Bull soft drink company in 2005, and its kit changed from the traditional violet and white to red and white. Some fans were so indignant they formed a new club, SV Austria Salzburg, and though the original club have since won three Austrian titles, an investment of around €200m (£166m) and the signing of 64 new players has still not brought Champions League success.
In four of the past five seasons Dutch coach Huub Stevens' side have lost in the Champions League qualifying round, and last month they were eliminated by Hapoel Tel Aviv. The club have also made a poor start in the league this season, taking only five points from their first five games.Reuse content