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Rivals suggest political motives for Milan signing Balotelli

Centre left leader jokes that he's in talks to buy Messi

30 January, 16:13
Rivals suggest political motives for Milan signing Balotelli (ANSA) - Rome, January 30 - Silvio Berlusconi's political rivals have suggested electoral motives could be behind the ex-premier's soccer club AC Milan signing Italy forward Mario Balotelli in the January transfer window.

Berlusconi is leading the centre right's campaign for next month's Italian election, although he has said he will not become Italian premier for a fourth time if the coalition wins and would like to be economy minister.

His alliance is trailing Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left coalition in the polls, but the gap has been narrowed significantly in recent weeks following a media blitz by the 76-year-old billionaire.

Former Milan mayor Gabriele Albertini, who is standing for outgoing Premier Mario Monti's centrist reform platform in elections to become governor of Lombardy next month, said the move was like ancient Roman leaders offering "bread and circuses" to appease the public.

Bersani reacted with irony.

"While I was in Padua visiting disabled people and prison inmates yesterday, Berlusconi was negotiating for Balotelli," the head of the main centre-left Democratic Party said Wednesday "So I announce that I'm in negotiations to bring (Barcelona and Argentina forward) Leo Messi to Bettola," he added, referring to his small home town in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna.

The chairman of Inter Milan, the club who Balotelli first played for at the senior level, said Berlusconi had "thousands of reasons" for the move. Balotelli, 22, is set to arrive in Milan on Wednesday to have a medical and sign a contract that runs until 2017.

Milan will pay a transfer fee of around 20 million euros to English champions City plus performance-related bonuses.

The talented, temperamental striker reportedly agreed for his annual salary to be cut from 5.5 million euros to four million to make the move possible. His arrival follows an apparent change of heart from Berlusconi, who earlier this month described the player as a rotten apple.

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