Mario Balotelli's Antics Wearing Thin with Manchester City, Roberto Mancini

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Mario Balotelli's Antics Wearing Thin with Manchester City, Roberto Mancini

With each passing controversy, Mario Balotelli seems to use up another of his nine lives. And with each rudderless appearance for Manchester City, he raises nearly as many questions.

In time, the high-wire act will wear thin, and Balotelli's time will be finished at City. That much is certain.

This time, after a cracking Manchester Derby, his antics are wearing thin. And for once, the questions are as obvious as the answers.

Should Mario stay, or should he go? Has he outstayed his welcome? Don’t the fans deserve more? Shouldn’t Carlos Tevez have started anyway?

And what’s it going to take for Roberto Mancini to send Balotelli packing?

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This past Sunday, the Manchester Derby was a doozy on the macro and micro scale. Cast against the drama of the city’s—and the country’s—two footballing titans were Balotelli, all 52 of his ineffectual minutes on the pitch and the personal soap opera that surrounded the aftermath.

First, though, the context.

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Manchester United, cast in the unfamiliar role of challengers, stormed to a 2-0 lead, lost it, won it in extra time and watched defender Rio Ferdinand suffer an assault by flying currency.

Manchester City, meanwhile, played the dual role of champions defending their title and home turf and of the highly priced, highly talented football imports fighting for their embattled manager.

Taken together, it all amounted to a brilliant match with solid entertainment and a lively atmosphere. It was a derby the way a derby should be—that is, apart from the coin throwing and pitch invading.

It should have been enough to satisfy even the jaded among us, the weary neutrals already resigned to another two-horse title race involving only the city of Manchester. Yet here we are, asking our questions and wondering what exactly is going on inside Balotelli’s brain.

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Few, if any, can answer the latter, perhaps not even Balotelli. At the tender age of 22, the Italian striker has cultivated a rap sheet of offenses that would end the careers of most normal footballers.

From crashing a car to partying late at night to hurting his team on the pitch, Balotelli has done it all. As recently as last spring, after his sending-off at Arsenal seemed to have cost City the title, we questioned whether he had gone too far.

But instead of leaving, he stuck around City. Instead of giving up on Balotelli, City gave him yet another chance.

For what it's worth, Balotelli responded with a memorable Euro 2012 campaign for Italy.

Joern Pollex/Getty Images

He hasn't replicated that success this season for City, and Sunday's inept performance only served to underline growing concerns over Balotelli, his focus, his talent, his temperament and his drive.

After performing poorly for just over 50 minutes, Balotelli was subbed off early in the second half. As he left the pitch, he walked pointedly past Mancini and, without making eye contact with the manager or his teammates, trudged into the tunnel toward the dressing room.

The stunt, not surprisingly, left Mancini unimpressed.

"I love Mario as a guy and a player but it is important for him to start to think about his job," he said (per BBC Sport). "He has everything to play well but he can't continue to play like today."

We all know about his talent. Unfortunately for Balotelli, we all know about the rest as well. And because we do, we all have tough questions that need tough answers.

Balotelli and Mancini have a long history, and it hasn't all been bad. Mancini, in fact, has probably been Balotelli's greatest supporter and believer through the years.

But after Sunday, one can only wonder how many chances Balotelli has left.

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