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Sports

Enigma and German bane Balotelli heads home

Italian international striker Mario Balotelli, whose Euro 2012 brace dashed Joachim Löw's German dreams, has signed for AC Milan. His current coach Roberto Mancini sought to bury the hatchet after a training ground spat.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini sought a conciliatory tone on Wednesday after Mario Balotelli's big-money move to AC Milan. Balotelli had struggled in the north of England in recent months, but German fans are well aware of the 22-year-old's potential - given that he hit two goals to oust the German national team from Euro 2012.

The transfer of Italy's quirky striker or borderline head case, depending on one's personal appraisal, had seemed likely for weeks after Balotelli and Mancini came to blows on the training ground. Furthermore, with the resurgence of players like Carlos Tevez within City's bloated squad of stars, opportunities on the pitch had been scarce for the international star.

Italy's Mario Balotelli (R) gets a yellow card for taking off his shirt after scoring the 2-0 by referee Stephane Lannoy of France during the semi final match of the UEFA EURO 2012 between Germany and Italy in Warsaw, Poland, 28 June 2012. (Photo: EPA/BARTLOMIEJ ZBOROWSKI)

Balotelli has seen his fair share of controversy and cards in his career, often for his topless celebrations

Still, Mancini was keen to sing the praises of a player he worked with at Inter Milan and Man City alike.

"We love Mario and he deserves this chance. For me, he was not a problem. For me, Mario was like another one of my children," Mancini said on Wednesday. "I invest a lot of time with all players. With Mario, maybe more. But I think that Mario is in the history of the club because we won three trophies in two-and-a-half years."

Big-spending City won the English Premier League on the last day of action last season, ending a decades-long drought for Manchester's older, but less successful side.

Berlusconi bites into 'bad apple' after all

AC Milan appeared among the front-runners for the striker, who Mancini said would benefit from returning home to be closer to his family and friends. Balotelli's big break came with Milan's other major club, Internazionale.

Yet the original talk of a Balotelli move to Milan lost some pace when the club's owner, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, appeared to dismiss the transfer following Balotelli's dust-up with Mancini.

"If you place a bad apple in the dressing room then it can infect all of the others," Berlusconi told Antenna 3 television. "Balotelli is someone who I would never accept in the Milan squad."

Subsequently, on January 15, Berlusconi told Sky Italia that he was talking about his general desire to have positive influences in the dressing room, saying "I was not referring to Balotelli and I apologize if it was taken as a slur against him."

Whether a bad apple, prodigious talent - or both - Balotelli's transfer cost Milan a reported 19 million pounds (22.2 million euros, $29.9 million); cash-strapped Milan are reportedly paying in installments. The move unites Balotelli with Italy's other rising international star striker Stephan El Shaarawy, creating a potentially mouthwatering double act up front for the "Rossoneri".

msh/hc (AFP, AP, dpa)