LONDON – You may think a guy who has to pay his ex-wife £82,000 — a day yes, a day — would have learned a financial lesson or two, but Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy and president of AC Milan, continues to be a lucrative benefactor and not just for the former Signora Berlusconi.
As Forbes magazine estimated Berlusconi’s wealth at $5.9 billion, even his ex-factor will make minimal inroads to his fortune. Yet Manchester City, whose Abu Dhabi-based owners make even Berlusconi look like a relative pauper, hardly need the generosity of Milan, which this week paid City £19.5 million for Mario Balotelli, an underachieving, overpaid non-scoring striker.
It is also worth remembering that last month Berlusconi said: “The name of Balotelli never came into my thoughts, he is a rotten apple and could infect every group where he goes, even Milan.”
Of course, three weeks can be a long time in football.
English scribes will miss Mad Mario, who gave us wonderful off-the-wall stories like letting off fireworks in his bathroom; dressing up as Father Christmas and throwing money out of his car; the day his mother sent him to a department store to buy an ironing board and he returned with a quad bike, a Scalextric set and a trampoline; handing a tramp £25,000 after a good night at a casino; or walking away unhurt from a car crash and when asked by the police why he had £5,000 in cash on him replied: “Because I am rich.”
This is how we’ll remember Balotelli, though, not for any brilliance on the field apart from the occasional flash of genius, usually against Manchester United.
He had his moments, and 30 goals in 80 games is not a poor return, but too often he was a liability, a player who collected almost as many cards — 23 yellow and four red — as goals.
At Inter Milan, Jose Mourinho called Balotelli “unmanageable” but Roberto Mancini thought he could change a striker who was recently fined two weeks’ wages, £350,000, for missing 11 of the club’s 54 games last season through suspension.
Mancini, at times seemingly the player’s only champion, indulged Balotelli, who eventually became a caricature of himself. He mixed with the wrong crowd, visited the sort of places a professional sportsman should not be seen in and on away trips often stayed in his room for long hours. If it was mental weakness rather than malice, the effect was the same and Balotelli will not be missed by the City players or fans.
If you wanted a player to take a penalty to pay off your mortgage, Balotelli would ensure your house is now your own, yet Mourinho was right, he is unmanageable. He cannot even manage himself and after failing with the nerazzuri, Balotelli, a self-confessed Milan fan, hopes for better luck with rossoneri.
As Balotelli met with Milan vice president Adriano Galliani on Wednesday Italian police used tear gas to disperse fans outside the restaurant. Mad Mario once displayed a T-shirt with “Why Always Me?” on it.
Answer: because it is always you.
The rotten apple has arrived.
In December, soon after Harry Redknapp had taken over as manager of Queens Park Rangers, he said: “There are a lot of players at this club who earn far too much money. Far too much for their ability and what they give to the club. I don’t really want to see the owners have their pants taken down like they have in the past.”
On Thursday, Christopher Samba became the 28th player to sign for QPR in the past 18 months, which may be one reason why Rangers are almost last in the Premier League.
The center-half cost £12.5 million from Russian club Anzhi and he is reported to be on a four-year deal worth £100,000 a week.
Samba’s arrival followed that of Loic Remy £8 million from Marseille and Yun Suk Young (undisclosed fee but estimated to be £5 million from Chunnam Dragons in the K-League). Remy, certainly, will earn the same as Samba.
When Tony Fernandes took over at Loftus Road in August 2011 he said: “Football needs to change. There are clubs out there who are spending money that if they were in a real business they could not afford.”
But football is not a real business, and with Premier League survival worth £40 million a year in television money alone, on the line Fernandes has decided to roll the dice. Don’t worry if his pants have been taken down again or whether he’s overpaying new players, it’s an all-or-nothing gamble to stay in millionaires row because should Rangers be relegated their wage bill will be unsustainable in the Championship.
Rangers will probably need 37 points to remain in the Premier League, which means 21 points from their remaining 14 games.
They have won only two matches so far, so the new Rangers will need to improve by 100 percent or else there will be a financial meltdown at Loftus Road.
DAVID BECKHAM’s critics will be hard pressed to find a negative in his incredible gesture to donate his Paris Saint-Germain salary over the next five months to a children’s charity in the French capital.
Beckham is a class act and was rightly applauded by those who did not study cynicism at school. At a time when footballers and agents are holding clubs to ransom, Beckham is playing for free to help a charity.
If any footballer was going to do this, it was Beckham and we will have a long wait for the first agent to give away his over-inflated fee.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.