HARRISON, N.J. — In the last few days, reports surfaced in a few corners of the internet claiming that the Union have been talking with famous — indeed, notorious — striker Mario Balotelli.
Those reports are false, Union sporting director Ernst Tanner told the Inquirer and Daily News on Thursday night.
"There is not a piece of truth in that story," Tanner said by phone from Germany, where he's on a scouting trip. "I don't know why this is coming up. … I never was in touch with him."
Judging from social media, a number of Union fans would have liked Tanner to be in touch with Balotelli. It's easy to see why.
Born in Italy to immigrants from Ghana, the 28-year-old has 148 goals in 360 career club games across six clubs, plus 14 goals in 36 games for Italy's national team. He won the Champions League in 2010 and Italy's Serie A four times with Inter Milan, won the English Premier League in 2012 with Manchester City, and played at the 2014 World Cup with the Azzurri.
His real stardom, though, comes from his brash personality on and off the field. The most famous story came at the peak of his fame, seven years ago, when fireworks were set off in his Manchester house. Balotelli was accused of doing it himself; he blamed friends who were in the house with him.
The day after the incident, he scored a goal in Manchester City's 6-1 rout of rival Manchester United, and revealed a "Why Always Me?" t-shirt that remains enshrined in global soccer lore.
Since then, Balotelli has played for AC Milan, Liverpool and most recently French club Nice, where he's under contract for the rest of the European season.
It really shouldn't be surprising that Tanner has no interest in Balotelli. Among many other factors — even above the money he'd likely have to spend, which would be vast — why would Tanner take his first big risk in Philadelphia on a player once seen as the Terrell Owens of international soccer?
"I'm more interested in putting together a real good team for the next season," Tanner said. "In terms of strikers, we are looking for young strikers and we are really in good negotiations in this moment. Maybe I can present something before Christmas, I don't know, but it looks not bad."
He also alluded to Balotelli not being a good tactical fit with his vision for the Union, saying: "I never was going for that type of striker. It doesn't make sense in terms of what we are really looking for."
Tanner's current trip to Europe will take him to Spain and France in the days to come, as he looks for the players who will deliver goals for the Union next season.
Asked what kind of budget he has to sign players with, Tanner didn't go into specifics, but said he's satisfied with what he has to work with.
"I think that the budget we have available for now is offering us a lot of flexibility, and I'm working on players who are really good and who fit in that budget, and that's possible," he said. "There are so many players in this world, and it's just a matter of going out and finding them."