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Bal' now in AC's court

ROBERTO MANCINI is ready to cut Mario Balotelli loose and send him back to Italy in the next few weeks if AC Milan can be persuaded to buy him.

It may be a massive exercise in extreme wishful thinking but Manchester City remain convinced that AC Milan are poised to take Balotelli off their hands and pay £30million for the privilege.

Despite the fact that owner Silvio Berlusconi described Balotelli as "a rotten apple", surely the most remarkable case of a pot calling the kettle black ever, City believe that Milan will stump up the cash before the month is out.

City believe none of Berlusconi's comments are to be taken at face value because he will contradict himself from one day to the next.

With manager Roberto Mancini privately finally resigned to the fact he will never convince the 22-year-old that he is throwing away his career, a bid from Milan - Balotelli's boyhood team - would allow City to cut their losses on a £22m signing and his £170,000-a-week wages.

City have been aware for some time the Serie A side would need to jettison Robinho or Alexandre Pato to pave the way for a Balotelli bid. Pato arrived in Sao Paulo yesterday, having completed a move to Corinthians after a deal in which the Brazilian side paid €15m (£12m) for 60pc of the player's economic rights.

The Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, said Robinho would not leave, after a deal which would have returned the "homesick" former City player to Santos fell through.

Mancini's willingness to sanction Balotelli's departure demonstrates the two latest controversies to have beset him -- the threat to take City to a Premier League tribunal and last week's training-ground bust-up with Scott Sinclair and the manager - have pushed things to a point of no return.

Publicly, Mancini insisted last week that the conflagration, in full view of the long-lens cameras which pictured him with his head in his hands, had not persuaded him to cut his losses. Balotelli would get "100 chances" to change his ways, he said.

But Mancini has accepted that he simply cannot predict what Balotelli will do next and that he can have no control over external influences in his private life, which he feels are leading the player astray.

The City manager is turning his attentions to aspects of the side he can control, with a central defender being the main asset he will attempt to persuade his board to add this month.

Mancini has been told there will be no spending in this window unless an emergency situation crops up and feels Kolo Toure's departure to the Africa Cup of Nations, combined with Micah Richards' long-term knee injury, does fall into that category.

It leaves him with only Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Joleon Lescott at centre-back.

Quality

Mancini, who tried to buy Liverpool's Daniel Agger in the summer, does not feel a loan deal will be adequate as the players of the quality he requires are not available on loan.

Mancini, who is convinced that his side can compete for the title if they are within reach of Manchester United at the end of next month, has received Sergio Aguero back from Italy, where he has been undergoing treatment on a hamstring tear.

He will not be fit to travel to Arsenal on Sunday but could face Fulham next weekend.

Mancini has asked his most trusted physician, 73-year-old Sergio Vigano, based at Monferrato, Piedmont, to help Aguero back to fitness. Mancini first met Vigano when the physio worked with him on the muscular problems he experienced as a 17-year-old player at Sampdoria.

He then followed Mancini to Lazio and Inter. Vigano has also treated Pablo Zabaleta, Kompany and Samir Nasri.