AC Milan & Juve fight for Balotelli, Everton sign Fer, Becks to train with Arsenal, Spurs’ £20m Damiao bid & Chelsea may axe Rafa

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “If I was president of a club, I would not trust him [Rafa Benitez] with my team… So I’m a liar? He’s thin then, so that gives reason to call me a liar. It pains me to say good luck to Chelsea but I will anyway, I feel sorry for their fans.” – Marco Materazzi.

Runner-up: “The greatest achievement of Arsene Wenger is to have created two teams — the one that now plays for our rivals and the one that is trying to be the best in the Premier League. My favorite star of the last 15 years is Henry. He is pushing me to buy all of Arsenal’s shares. For small clauses in contracts, we lose players — symbols like Van Persie, Flamini or Vieira. We should have increased their salaries when they started to be courted. Because of club politics we’re all guilty. Everything is in the hands of Kroenke, and I wish him success. But he doesn’t go along with my ideas.” – Alisher Usmanov.

AC Milan & Juve Fight Over Balotelli

Balotelli bound for City exit as Juventus and Milan close in (Jamie Jackson, Guardian) Manchester City are in talks with Milan and Juventus over the transfer of Mario Balotelli and are exploring the option of loaning the striker out until the summer ahead of a permanent move. The champions want around €23m (£19.75m) for the 22-year-old and it is understood that Milan have made an initial offer close to €20m. But last night Juventus also entered the bidding with City hoping their interest would help push up the price. The player is keen to return to his homeland and is willing to take what represents a small pay cut regarding the terms on offer, which are €5m a year tax-free, plus a sizeable signing-on bonus.

Manchester City prepare to sell Mario Balotelli as Italian giants start bidding war (Ian Herbert, Independent) Milan and Juventus were last night both pushing to secure the services of Mario Balotelli from Manchester City in the next 48 hours, with the player’s agent, who is now in England, significantly less emphatic about the prospects of him staying.

Juve join £17m battle for Balo (Sun) AC Milan are confident of bagging Mario Balotelli — but Juventus are ready to hijack the move… Milan are prepared to fork out £17m, but that would include add-ons and is close to what City chiefs are looking for. Juventus have now emerged as a strong contender for his signature, with more talks due to take place with them today.

AC Milan set to increase £17m bid for Mario Balotelli and throw in Kevin-Prince Boateng (Mirror) Roberto Mancini does not want to sell the controversial Italian international and City would only consider a deal if they could recoup the £24million they paid Inter Milan for him in 2010. Sources in Italy claim Milan are determined to get Balotelli and are prepared to offer former Portsmouth midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng as a makeweight in the deal.

Everton Sign Fer

Fer he’s a jolly good Fell-ow (Phil Thomas, Sun) Everton have landed the man dubbed Marouane Fellaini Mk II with the £8.5million capture of Leroy Fer… Everton sources insist his arrival does not mean the big-haired Belgian will be off-loaded. And boss David Moyes is under no pressure to sell, despite interest from Russia, where the window closes a month later.

I’ll guide Everton into Europe! Fer bullish after completing £8.6m switch from Twente (Dominic King, Mail) ‘Everton are in the top five at  the moment and they have a real chance of playing in Europe next  season,’ said Fer. ‘Since I was a young boy, I have always wanted to play in the English Premier League. And now the fact that I am going to do it with one of the biggest teams in the Premier League makes this move even more special.’

Why Everton should prioritise trying to win the FA Cup over finishing fourth (David Anderson, Mirror) For all of the talk about Everton trying to finish fourth and grab a Champions League spot, I feel winning the FA Cup would be bigger. Certainly if you were to ask any Evertonian would they rather finish fourth or win the FA Cup, I’m sure most would say the latter… As terrific an achievement it would be for Everton to finish in the top four, I fear the greater strength of Arsenal, Tottenham and even Liverpool, who have climbed to seventh, will ultimately tell.

Transfer Lies: Three Days Left In The Window

Becks Joins Arsenal (Sort Of) (Sun) David Beckham is joining Arsenal today with his future still undecided. Free agent Becks has agreed a top-secret plan with the Gunners to train with the first-team squad while he ponders his next move. The former England superstar, 37, is reporting for duty at Arsenal’s state-of-the-art Hertfordshire training HQ this morning determined to prove he can still play at the highest level. An Arsenal insider said: “Beckham wanted this all kept hush-hush. You have to wonder why?”

Harry’s re-Pete (Sun) Harry Redknapp is trying to get Peter Crouch to play for him for a FIFTH time.

Roma reject City’s approach for young Brazilian defender Marquinhos (Mail) Roma have rejected an approach from Manchester City for their 18-year-old Brazilian defender Marquinhos. The Brazil U17 international, valued at £5m, is also being eyed by Real Madrid.

Will Negredo fall in to Spurs’ net? AVB on lookout for a striker (Mail) Alvaro Negredo is back on Tottenham’s wish list with striker Jermain Defoe set to be out for over a month with a pelvic injury… Internacional’s Leandro Damiao and Celtic striker Gary Hooper, a target for Norwich, are also on their list.

Spurs in £20m Damiao raid (Star) Tottenham are trying to pull off a last-minute swoop for £20m Leandro Damiao… Privately Spurs have continued working behind the scenes to bolster their front line and not given up on landing Damiao, with Internacional wanting around £20m for the Brazil striker.

West Ham defender ‘Mad Dog’ Pogatetz wants to show he can still cut it in England (Mail) West Ham have completed the signing of Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz on loan from Wolfsburg – and he is out to prove himself in England again… Sam Allardyce’s team stumped up a £500,000 loan fee to the German side for Pogatetz, who can be used as a centre back or left back.

Fulham steal ahead of Everton in race for Monchengladbach striker Igor de Camargo (Mail) Fulham are in talks with Borussia Monchengladbach striker Igor de Camargo and are in pole position to see off competition from Eintracht Frankfurt and Everton for his signature.

Wigan step up pursuit of winger Montero from Mexico after McGeady deal stalls (Mail) Wigan are stepping up their efforts to sign Ecuador winger Jefferson Montero from Mexican side Monarcas Morelia in a £2.75million deal after being priced out of a move for Spartak Moscow’s Republic of Ireland winger Aiden McGeady.

Reading preparing £1.2m swoop for Sheffield United striker Blackman (Mail) Reading are lining up a £1.2million bid for Sheffield United striker Nick Blackman. The 23-year-old rejected a switch to Crystal Palace last week and now Reading are ready to move for the 14-goal forward.

Stoke interested in Palace’s Australian midfielder Jedinak (Mail) Stoke City are interested in Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak. Bolton were keen to offer around £1.5million for the Australian but Palace are reluctant to sell.

Sunderland on verge of completing £5.5m move after Danny Graham asks to leave (Mirror) The 27-year-old from Gateshead has yet to submit a formal transfer request but his intervention is likely to force the issue – with Swansea and Sunderland executives meeting tonight ahead of the side’s clash at the Stadium of Light.

Chelsea: Rafa Axe & Why So Many Loans?

Roman ready to axe Rafa (Star) Rafa Benitez’s future at Chelsea is hanging by a thread after the club launched a high-level inquest into his Stamford Bridge reign… They will not hesitate to send the Spaniard packing to keep the club ahead of rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, even if the club will come in for huge criticism for sacking two managers in the space of a season.

Benitez claims Chelsea haven’t got enough players… so why are 22 out on loan (including Essien, De Bruyne, McEachran and Courtois)? (Matt Barlow, Mail) As Rafa Benitez complains of the fatigue eating away at his thin squad, Chelsea have an army of 22 players on loan to clubs around the world. They include 19-year-old Lucas Piazon at Malaga and Michael Essien at Real Madrid, but Benitez insists none of these players are able to help ease the burden. Some are locked into long loans, unable to return mid-season, and most are simply too young and inexperienced for the types of challenge facing Chelsea.

Football Finance: The FA v The EPL

English football ‘has a year to change’ say MPs preparing to urge legislation (Owen Gibson, Guardian) Radical proposals to overhaul the way English football is run could be backed by new legislation, following a withering parliamentary report criticising the failure to introduce new financial controls and increase the influence of fans… The Premier League argues it has introduced a series of reforms in recent years designed to improve the transparency of club ownership and reduce financial recklessness. Concerned that its new £5.5bn broadcasting deal will fuel further rampant wage inflation, talks are continuing over introducing a version of the financial fair play breakeven rules imposed by Uefa. But the committee said the rules were unlikely to go far enough.

The FA continues its policy of meek surrender to Premier League power (David Conn, Guardian) A report from the culture, media and sport select committee has called on the Football Association to ‘take the lead in decision-making for the game’. There is no sign of it happening.

The FA Cup & the Premier (?) League

Premier League teams’ cup exits reflect lack of vibrancy in top flight (Barney Ronay, Guardian) It is tempting to conclude that the Premier League is not quite the premier league it is cracked up to be. This season interaction with footballing forces from beyond its borders has generally resulted in something of a black eye – the champions Manchester City exited the Champions League meekly, drawn in a tough group but still ruthlessly exposed.

Welcome to the Cup of Cavaliers – if only television could appreciate all the drama (Ian Herbert, Independent) What we now seem to have on our hands is a tournament that can be repositioned as the Cup of Cavaliers; a tournament of those who have more chance of delivering a bloody nose to the giants of the game than ever before – in part because today’s Ronnie Radfords are faster, fitter and able to make up in toil what they lack in tricks. The question is whether we can bring ourselves to embrace the “new” FA Cup. For so many it’s still the “old trophy” – part of a nostalgia and, as Gillis observes, nostalgia is something we cling to particularly tightly when the future looks as uncertain as it is now. It’s the nostalgia that makes us still punish it, even as it thrives.