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The real deal with Mario move? We'll never know

If you needed further evidence that Mario Balotelli's £16 million move from Milan to Liverpool was going to divide opinion, look no further than the extreme levels of spin from all sides.

Estimates of Balotelli's Anfield earnings vary wildly Photograph: Getty
Estimates of Balotelli's Anfield earnings vary wildly Photograph: Getty

Milan have let it be known that they consider selling the striker a great piece of business. That new manager Pippo Inzaghi did not want him. That no other club in Europe showed serious interest in him. That the deal offered by Liverpool is worth £8.5m per season - considerably more than the £6.4m Balotelli currently earns - and they knew better than to stand in his way, since he or his agent might throw a strop if he didn't get a pay rise.

Liverpool, or at least the English media who presumably get their information from them, have painted a wholly different picture.

Depending on which outlet you choose to believe, Balotelli will be earning £4m, £4.5m or £5m in basic wages, prompting one broadsheet to suggest he'd taken a 50%pay cut. However, they admit he can earn up to £2m a season more in various behavioural and performance- related incentives.

So, one man's £4m a season -while halving his wages to show his commitment to reform and to Liverpool - is another man's £8.5m a year, a 33% bump in pay after a lacklustre campaign and World Cup. (Note here that all wages are expressed in pre-tax, annual terms. Some of the discrepancy in the reporting has been outright spin and lies, some of it has been confusion over the fact that in England wages are usually given in gross, weekly amounts and in Italy in net, annual amounts.)

The point here isn't to poke fun or question the reliability of reports here or in Italy, but rather to show you can only report what your sources tell you, and different sources may tell you different things based on where their interests lie. Milan have an interest in inflating Balotelli's new contract; Liverpool in doing the opposite.

But it's further evidence of the lack of transparency in football and one of the side-effects is that it allows this sort of spin. What we do know with some certainty is that Balotelli was due to earn £6.4m a year - with bonuses and incentives - until June 2017 with Milan. Why he would take such a severe pay cut doesn't seem obvious. Unless, of course, it's not really an extreme pay cut because the £2m in behavioural bonuses will be extremely easy to earn, even for him. Like, say, getting a bonus for turning up to training. Or not getting sent off.

And if you throw in a signing fee and a commission to his agent and perhaps some media rights (he may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he arguably packs more of a commercial punch than anyone at Liverpool right now) perhaps it's not a cut in wages at all, but a slight rise (though maybe not to the £8.5m mentioned in Italy).

It's also frankly tough to believe that Balotelli's agent Mino Raiola, who also represents Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba among others, would accept a drop in his client's wages. The guy has a reputation to uphold - as a ruthless negotiator capable of wringing money out of anyone.

What's clear though is that the current murkiness over fees, contracts, wages and clauses allows each party to say whatever they like in order to serve their own purposes. Details are kept under wraps in the name of confidentiality and competitive advantage.

If we had transparency, that excuse would go by the wayside and we'd have better oversight, which would mean fans could judge how a club spend their money. Which rather explains why managers and agents hope that day never comes.

Amidst the Malky Mackay-Iain Moody fiasco, it's worth reminding ourselves how and why the text messages at the centre of it came to light. Following Mackay's departure from Cardiff, Vincent Tan, the club's owner, launched a £750,000 investigation involving private investigators and forensic accountants into the activities of Mackay and Moody during their time as manager and head of recruitment at the Welsh club respectively.

Tan didn't do this because he enjoys handing out money to gumshoes, but in an attempt to figure out whether the pair had improperly handled Cardiff's finances during their time in charge. Moody was let go last summer and Mackay in December. Tan, you'll recall, had accused them of overspending.

We don't know what became of that investigation and as far as we know no financial wrongdoing has been unearthed. Moody and Mackay dropped compensation claims against Tan at the end of last season and issued public apologies to the Malaysian tycoon.

We know that the 10,000 texts -including the ones that were racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic - were recovered last March and it's therefore fair to ask why we're only finding out about them five months later.

We also know that whatever jobsworth at the League Managers Association (LMA) issued the Mackay statement on Thursday did neither him nor his organisation any favours. The mealy-mouthed half-apology forced the LMA to issue a second statement, made Mackay seem clueless and insensitive (so much so that he had to issue a public apology of his own) and stoked the fires, with Cardiff calling for LMA chief Richard Bevan to step down.

Yet the simple fact of the matter is that this is some people's idea of banter. And this is how some people talk when they're under stress.

Whether or not it makes them unfit to lead a football club is a choice for their prospective employers to make. But it's a good thing that it's now out in the open.

What mustn't happen - and, thankfully, it hasn't happened - is that we consider it normal or acceptable to talk this way about women, Koreans, Jews and black people. If you wish to employ someone who does it, that's your decision. But be prepared to face the consequences: plenty of public censure.

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