Head-strong, brash, cocky and immature, Mario Balotelli is not the model professional. A logistical nightmare, prone to completely illogical acts, the young Italian has become a permanent fixture in an infatuated British press.
Many would have given up on the flawed genius after perpetual histrionics, sulking and an incessant courting of the headlines. Yet Balotelli, when he decides to, cannot half play. Indeed, his performance against Germany in this summer’s European Championship’s was as good an individual performance as I have seen this year.
Roberto Mancini knows this. After managing the enigmatic Balotelli in Milan, Mancini was suitably infatuated by the youngsters potential to engineer a big-money move to new charges Manchester City. The decision, indicative of Balotelli, is almost impossible to analyse literally, although, based on this season it has been an unmitigated disaster.
Balotelli’s inconsistencies have defined his time at Eastlands. It is hard to remember a player whose very obvious ability is so often entrenched in such abject mediocrity. Throughout it all though, Mancini has remained a constant, a pillar of support for his errant star.
Time and time again when asked whether Balotelli’s antics and lackadaisical nonchalance on the field were testing the boundaries of City’s patience, Mancini consistently refuted the claims.
After a horrendous first 45 minutes in last month’s Manchester derby, Balotelli was replaced and hasn’t played since. Yet still, Mancini affirmed, it wasn’t the end of Balotelli in Manchester.
Yesterday, the boiling tension of a season that now promises little came to a head. A season of failed expectations, abject European performance and a severe come-down after the Citizens brilliant inaugural title last season, was acted out in front of the world, by its leading men.
Mancini, irate at a particularly overzealous Balotelli challenge tried to force the player to leave the training field. The hedonistic Balotelli refused.
In such a situation, a rational manager, a manager secure in his job, a manager preoccupied with the reputation of his embattled club, would have sought a resolution that would not have compromised this position.
Mancini, however, in quite unbelievable scenes that was all too easily caught on camera by the photographers allowed easy access to the clubs Eastlands training ground, instead lunged at his striker. Attempting to drag Balotelli away by the bib that, if previous scenes are to be believed, it took him a while to put on, the manager tried to physically drag Balotelli from the pitch.
Concerned club staff quickly moved to step in and physically restrain the pair, but the damage had been done. The pictures had been taken and were already on their way to the front pages.
In the aftermath, a huge portion of the blame has been attributed to Balotelli, quite rightly so for what was a shocking lack of respect towards his manager.
Mancini has shown an admirable level of support, patience and perseverance in dealing with a player that is sometimes more akin to a child than a professional. Yet, such is his position. The manager, more so even than the players, is in a position of responsibility, a role in which he has to be culpable for not just his own but an element of his players actions also.
The manner in which Everton manager David Moyes treated Marouane Fellaini’s head-butt earlier this month, for example, was exemplary and diffused what could have been a highly volatile situation for the clubs reputation.
Older and wiser managers would be assumed to, with the added life experience and maturity, employ a certain level of rationale to their actions.
Rational men do not grapple with their strikers.
In an era in which Roman Abramovic’s wandering eye saw a manager who won his side the Champions League last season as expendable, City’s owners have shown a remarkable degree of loyalty to Mancini.
He is testing the limits of their patience.