UPDATE: Sporting Director Ernst Tanner told Jonathan Tannenwald of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philly.com that “There is a not a piece of truth” to the Balotelli reports.
While it still seems like a long shot, a source close to the team has indicated that the Philadelphia Union are in talks to bring Italian international striker Mario Balotelli to Chester.
This information is consistent with a report Kevin Kinkead shared in a Crossing Broad post on Wednesday noting interest in Balotelli, but it should still be handled with a heavy dose of skepticism at this point. Our understanding is that the information provided to Brotherly Game comes from a different source than Kinkead’s report.
Balotelli would be a dream come true to Philadelphia Union fans who for years have clamored for a big-money, marquee striker who could help raise the level of play on the field and the team’s marketability off it while also garnering the kind of media attention no other player in the team’s history has come even close to getting.
The 28-year-old OGC Nice striker’s contract is set to expire in June 2019 and his salary last season — reportedly about $6 million — was about four times that of on-loan midfielder Borek Dockal ($1.7 million), the team’s highest paid player in 2018.
There was speculation over the summer that Balotelli would leave for Ligue 1 rivals Marseille — his asking price was reportedly between $5 and $6.5 million at the time — but he’s back this season playing for former NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira. He is yet to score in eight games, but does have an assist. Since joining Nice in 2016, he’s scored 43 goals in 74 appearances.
Assuming Balotelli would even accept whatever offer the Union’s notoriously thrifty majority owner Jay Sugarman is willing to put forward, D.C. United’s high-profile acquisition of England international Wayne Rooney and LA Galaxy bringing Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic to MLS could show a path forward for the Union.
Recent reporting in The Athletic on Rooney’s contract with D.C. United indicate that there is a profit-sharing component and other incentives that the team used to lure him to the nation’s capital. That investment so far has paid off for the team, which was buzzing with fans and excitement in their new stadium toward the latter part of the 2018 season. The Galaxy were able to retain Zlatan’s services for just $1.5 million, but part of the draw for the Swedish international was lucrative U.S. endorsement deals and likely other incentives in his contract.
Balotelli isn’t Rooney or Zlatan — he’s perhaps riskier given some of his previous troubles — but signing him would send shockwaves through the league, put the Union on the international map and be a real message of intent to a fanbase still reeling from another disappointing end to a season that was shaping up quite nicely before an Open Cup final loss and two losses at Yankee Stadium, all while being reminded ad nauseam that it was the best point total in team history.
Bringing a goal-scoring No. 9 of Balotelli’s stature to the Union has long seemed like an impossibility. That hasn’t changed just yet, but talking about the team expressing interest and going so far as to make an offer to a marquee international striker is at least a promising sign.