Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has heaped praise on AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, triggering talk that the Reds will follow up their interest in the Italian with a formal offer as they look to add a new forward to their squad.
Queens Park Rangers striker Loic Remy had been on the verge of joining the Merseyside club, only to fail a medical and see the deal called off at the last minute. With his £8.5m transfer now dead in the water, Rodgers is seeking an alternative to help fill the void left by Luis Suarez’s departure.
One of those believed to be targeted by the Northern Irishman is Balotelli, who had reportedly been on Arsenal’s radar earlier in the summer. Rodgers described the controversial character that is ‘Super Mario’ as “a big talent”, and believes with the right guidance he can go on to become one of the best players in the world.
“Balotelli is a big talent,” Rodgers said on Liverpool’s tour of the United States.
“I saw that in this time at Inter Milan as a young player and obviously going to Manchester City when we had a real close eye on him there.
“He's got all the qualities. He's 6ft 3ins, he's quick, his touch is terrific and he can score goals.
“He went back to Italy to play and he's still so young. If his focus is right, his concentration is right and he leads the lifestyle of a top player then he can play for any team in the world.'
Liverpool transfer targets: Who might they sign this summer?
Liverpool transfer targets: Who might they sign this summer?
1/4 Mohamed Diame
Mohamed Diame said he was on the verge of a move to Liverpool in 2012 but the dismissal of Kenny Dalglish scuppered the deal. The West Ham attacking midfielder has stated more recently that he wants to play for a bigger side. Having impressed last term with goals and assists to his name at Upton Park, a move to Anfield could be back on.
2/4 Mateo Kovacic
The last player Liverpool signed from Inter Milan, Philippe Coutinho, was rather successful. So it's no surprise Liverpool have been linked with rising star Mateo Kovacic. Th 20-year-old has a long-term deal at the San Siro and says he is happy to remain in Italy having joined in a £12.4m deal in 2013.
3/4 Mario Balotelli
AC Milan appear ready to sell the former Manchester City player and he's been strongly linked with a return to the Premier League. Arsenal were understood to be the front-runners in the chase for the striker but the departure of Suarez has seen Liverpool emerge as contenders.
4/4 Ezequiel Lavezzi
The Argentina international was linked with a move to Liverpool following the collapse of the move for Loic Remy. The PSG forward could be available due to the expected arrival of Angel Di Maria in the French capital. Lavezzi scored nine goals in 32 Ligue 1 appearances last term and has notched seven goals in 19 Champions League appearances since joining the club for £24m.
Rodgers was speaking about Balotelli ahead of Liverpool’s pre-season friendly against AC Milan later tonight, with the two teams set to collide as part of the International Champions Cup that also features the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid.
A win would send them through to the final of the competition – due to be held in Miami on Monday night – and having already beaten Olympiakos and City in Group B, Rodgers has been quick to admit his delight with defender Sebastian Coates’ form ahead of the new season.
Coates suffered a serious knee injury while on international duty for Uruguay in August 2013, and after battling back to full fitness and a loan spell with his former club Nacional, he could boost Liverpool’s defensive options should he stay at Anfield this summer.
“Seb is a player who played in the team when I first came into the club and then was out of the team,” Rodgers added.
“He was very unfortunate to have had a bad injury which put him out for a while, but he went away on loan, got himself fit and he's come back and done really well in pre-season.
“He's a real good guy as well, a humble man, never cries about not playing and accepts as a professional he won't play in every game.
“He's a big boy but he can play football. He has a lovely touch, lovely technique but he can pass the ball and he can be aggressive.
“The question is whether he gets enough games that will satisfy his own personal needs because he's a talent.
“He's done well in the games and we'll see what the rest of the summer holds for him.”
Rodgers is expected to have two more defensive options available to him once the season gets underway, with a £20m move for Seville left-back Alberto Moreno set to be completed in the next few days. That transfer should be followed by a season-long loan of Atletico Madrid right-back Javier Manquillo, who could join on a permanent deal next year for around £6m should he impress Rodgers.
However, Rodgers was reluctant to expand on his plans for the remaining month of the transfer window, but did concede that there are areas he still wants to strengthen despite already making six signings since the end of last season.
“We won't have too much business to be done but we still have a few areas we want to strengthen,” Rodgers explained.
“It's just purely on the back of us having a really thin squad last season, we were very short and it was incredible what we achieved last year.
“We need to make sure we have the freshness so there's still one or two areas to look at.
“There is no point mentioning numbers or positions, we want to strengthen a couple of positions and if we can do that I'll be really happy.
“This trip has been a great chance to come away, improve fitness levels and reintroduce some of the tactics into the team.
“The new players have settled in quickly. That's a great credit not just to just them but to the team. There's no egos here and the spirit in the team is very strong.”
Managing Balotelli’s ego – should he join the Premier League runners-up – would certainly be one of Rodgers’ most difficult challenges to date, but it remains to be seen if the 23-year-old will be making a return to the English top flight this year.
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