Manchester City: Run Mario Balotelli Off? Only at Your Peril, Roberto Mancini
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You have heard this a time or two before, but this time there seems to be more to it: Roberto Mancini is reportedly at the end of his tether with Mario Balotelli. As a result, City is rumored to be looking into moving the mercurial striker (is there another kind?) and finding a replacement.
This is a very bad idea.
The case against Balotelli is well-documented. He has been at the center of some prominent off-the-pitch distractions. At times it seems he receives more attention for his on-again, off-again relationship with model Raffaella Fico, now pregnant with his child, than he does for his play.
Occasionally, as with this past Saturday, Balotelli is not the most supportive or selfless teammate.
Against Sunderland at the Etihad, Balotelli appeared to quarrel with Aleksandar Kolarov about who would take an early free kick from a few yards outside the box.
Thankfully, Balotelli lost the argument, because Kolarov promptly rifled a patented left-footed bullet into the top-right corner of Simon Mignolet's net.
And then, after 55 relatively quiet minutes of play, there was Balotelli being substituted for Sergio Aguero. Balotelli did not take kindly to it, storming past Mancini and up the tunnel. Doubtlessly, Balotelli's mood was not much brightened by the fact that it only took Aguero five minutes of match time to score.
It was not a great day for Balotelli, even though it was a great day for the Sky Blues.
City cannot afford to carelessly part with a talent of Balotelli's magnitude for a number of reasons.
Heaven only knows what Roman Weidenfeller was thinking getting in Balotelli's personal space before Balotelli lined up his penalty, but making it personal was probably the last thing Weidenfeller should have done.
Balotelli approached the ball, hesitated as he often does, got Weidenfeller to commit and struck the ball into the vacated side. It was reminiscent of his injury time winner over Tottenham Hotspur in January. In this way it often seems that Balotelli is better in the bigger moments.
While strikers are presently not in short supply for City, the plain truth is that any club is one awkward fall (or one hack-down opponent's tackle) from losing a prominent talent to injury for a length of time.
Given City's present task of competing in both the Premiership and the Champions League, the club needs not just depth, but top-drawer depth. It will not suffice to have the answer to a significant injury to a forward be "well, we could play Scott Sinclair."
Besides, it is not as though City, generally, and Mancini, specifically, lack experience in accounting for the aggravations and eccentricities of transcendent talents. In just the past six months or so, Carlos Tevez has gone from team pariah to once again among the team leaders in goals scored and a mainstay in the lineup.
For that matter, keeping Balotelli around is insurance against another Tevez flake-out.
Ultimately, though, the reason to keep Balotelli in the fold is what brought him to the team from the start. He is a world-class striker who played a significant role in last season's league title. It is easy to say "we can replace him," but much harder to go and do it.
There may come a time to part with Balotelli, but for all of the foregoing reasons, that time must not be now.
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