4 January 2013

The Mancini-Balotelli conundrum

Roberto Mancini finally snaps and grabs Mario Balotelli's bib.

Well, you can't say you didn't see it coming.

The love-hate relationship between Roberto Mancini and his Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli came to a head at the club's training ground yesterday, as the pair clashed and had to be separated by other City staff members.

The row apparently started after a challenge from Balotelli on Citizens team-mate Scott Sinclair late in the Thursday training session met with the manager's disapproval.

During the exchange, Mancini appeared to pull at Balotelli's training bib, which for once the striker was wearing the right way round.

If there wasn't a photographer at the scene, we probably wouldn't have known about this. But the release of these photos has once again cast doubt over Balotelli's future in the blue half of Manchester.

It seems like, since moving to the north-west of England in August 2010, Balotelli has built up a longer rap sheet than Charles Bronson. The many incidents he has been involved in are usually followed by excellent performances on the pitch, which reassure City fans that the youngster can realise his potential.

Here are just some of the things Super Mario/Bonkers Balotelli has done in the last two-and-a-half years:
  • He crashed his car en route to the City training ground just days after signing for them.
  • He scored his first Premier League goal and picked up his first PL red card in the same match against West Bromwich Albion in November 2010.
  • After narrowly beating Jack Wilshere to the Golden Boy award in December, he claimed never to have heard of the Arsenal midfielder, and said that only Lionel Messi was better than himself.
  • He threw a dart at a City youth player in March 2011 because he was "bored". Fortunately for the youth, Balotelli's aim wasn't as good as Phil Taylor's, and the striker escaped scot free.
  • He was taken off early in a pre-season friendly against Los Angeles Galaxy in July for attempting an audacious back-heeled shot at goal.
  • Days before the Manchester derby in October, Balotelli set fire to his bathroom after playing with fireworks. He then scores against United before unveiling that "WHY ALWAYS ME?" T-shirt.
  • In January 2012, he parked his car at a Manchester college just so he can use their toilet.
  • In the same month, he is banned for four matches after stamping on Scott Parker's head against Tottenham Hotspur.
  • Balotelli's temper got the better of him against Arsenal in April, as he picked up one of the most inevitable red cards in PL history and cost his team a point.
  • Balotelli threatened to take Manchester City to a Premier League tribunal in December over a two-week fine for his poor disciplinary record. The two parties later reached a mutual agreement.

Of course, the incident casts Mancini in a bad light, too. The photographs suggest that he was the aggressor rather than Balotelli.

The 48-year-old isn't the Premier League's best man-manager, and he does have a strange relationship with some of his most enigmatic players. When Carlos Tevez decided that he would rather play golf in Argentina than football in Munich, Mancini said he was finished at Eastlands. After five months away, Tevez returned to the side.

The Italian coach's relationship with the usually-reliable goalkeeper Joe Hart has deteriorated with the Englishman's form this season. Mancini was far from happy when Hart criticised for conceding a winning position against Real Madrid in September, and after another 3-2 defeat against Manchester United last month, the pair had a furious row in the dressing room.

Tensions seem to run higher at City than they do at United. For example, you wouldn't get Sir Alex Ferguson turning violent against Robin van Persie. Of course, these things do happen at Manchester United, but nowadays, Ferguson tends to keep those situations under control.

The harmony in the Red Devils' dressing room compared to that of the Sky Blues' is one key reason why United currently hold a seven-point advantage over their local rivals in the Premier League.

Not for the first time, questions are being asked about whether Mario Balotelli will still be a Manchester City player when the January transfer window slams shut.

But the strange thing is, even after yesterday morning's incident, Balotelli could still be included in the City squad to play Watford in the FA Cup tomorrow, and he could even get himself back in the headlines with a hat-trick. That's Mario for you.

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