AC Milan and Inter are preparing to slug it out this summer to take troubled striker Mario Balotelli back to Italy.
Both Milan clubs are ready to launch £20million bids for Balotelli, whose controversial two-year spell at Manchester City looks over.
Balotelli escaped extra punishment by the FA yesterday when they decided to take no further action for his first half tackle on Arsenal’s Alex Song on Sunday, although he was later dismissed for the third time this season.
The infuriated City boss Roberto Mancini met with Balotelli’s lawyer Vittorio Rigo at a Cheshire restaurant last week to discuss the player’s future.
With many City players angry at Mancini’s perceived preferential treatment of Balotell, the sale of the 21-year-old now looks inevitable.
Senior figures at City are concerned at the destabilising effect Balotelli is having on the squad and are ready to consider bids for him.
Reports in Italy suggest Balotelli’s former club Inter and their rivals AC Milan are poised to table bids for the maverick forward, who could miss out on Euro 2012 following his latest on-field shame.
Although Mancini has stood by Balotelli throughout the player’s turbulent spell at City, there is an acceptance that selling him may now be the best option for all parties.
Yet Mancini’s own future is by no means certain, with the City hierarchy waiting to see how his side perform in the final six games of the season before deciding whether to stick with him.
There is concern among the City board at how Mancini’s players have lost a five-point lead to now stand eight points behind Manchester United, with the title virtually out of reach.
The circus caused by Balotelli’s on and off-field antics has been blamed as a major factor in City falling away and taking just five points from a possible 15 to trail United.
Selling Balotelli would solve one problem for City, although the club accept they are likely to have to take a slight loss on the £24m they paid Inter for the forward two years ago.
Mancini’s immediate concern is lifting his deflated City players for the final six games of the season, in particular for the visit of United to the Etihad Stadium on April 30.
With his own future unclear, Mancini knows a convincing win over United in that game, even if the title is beyond City this season, could persuade the club’s board to stick with him.
United could win the title at the Etihad, a humiliating prospect for City and their fans, having led the Premier League for so long this season.
Asked how City fans would feel if United won the title there, Mancini said: “I don’t know this.
“I just know that now we have 15 points more than we had at this stage last year.
“So I can say we did well. Now it’s clearly difficult for us to win the title.
“But we hope they can lose three or four points before the derby and after that we’ll see.
“It’s not over. In football it’s never finished. For this reason, I believe always.
“But we did a fantastic season and we need to finish well.”
Mancini identified the loss of first-choice central defensive duo Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott as a key factor in City’s title collapse.
“In the last month we’ve had problems with player injuries,” said Mancini. “We lost Kompany and Lescott together to injuries for four weeks.
“We also lost Sergio Aguero for two difficult games. But we need to improve more. I want to carry on improving this team, why not?
“For 29 games we did very well. In the last two or three weeks we’ve done so-so.
“Maybe this is something we can improve on next year. But I repeat, six games to the end. 18 points. Never say never.”