Why always him? Mario Balotelli may have worn the T-shirt, but his Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is most definitely asking the question. Except, if Mancini doesn't find the answer, he will inevitably lose his job as manager at City.
Following the latest in a long line of controversies, this time it was a training ground fracas between Mancini and Balotelli. The likable Italian manager, once again, defended his unlikable Italian player by saying, "I will give him another 100 chances if possible."
However, the real truth behind this statement can be read in Mancini's quotes from January 1, where he explicitly lays out that Balotelli is an important marketing tool for the club (via ESPN):
"Sheikh Mansour likes Balotelli because he recognises the talent and he exports the name of City over the world," Mancini said.
"We need to realise Mario was signed as a major investment and this is not a club that throws its capital through the window. I think Mario will stay but the future depends mostly on him."
If Mancini had real power at the club, Balotelli's future would not depend upon the player himself, it would depend upon the manager.
Think of all the great players who have come and gone at Old Trafford over the years: Paul McGrath, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Lee Sharp to name but a few, but the list is almost endless. Significantly, these are all players who were close to the top of their game and could have stayed at United.
But for one reason or another, they crossed Sir Alex Ferguson. Quite brutally, he severed all ties with them regardless of their stature in the club, or within the game. The key element with Ferguson is that he controls every aspect of Manchester United as a football club with an iron fist.
The greatest sin of all, as far as Ferguson is concerned, is to undermine his authority. He simply will not allow the great foundation he rules from to be corroded from within.
Balotelli's actions constantly undermine his manager and his own career to the point where he is no longer taken seriously as a top professional. It must be galling for the likes of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and even Carlos Tevez to put up with the child-like behavior of Balotelli over and over again.
To some extent, if Balotelli were as gifted as the great George Best, his off-field shenanigans could be dealt with in some extreme way. However, he is an overrated player, and no one overrates him more than he does himself.
In 2010, after claiming the Tuttosport Golden Boy award for the best under-21 player in Europe, the over-confident Italian had a dig at previous winners like Wayne Rooney, Sergio Aguero and Cesc Fabregas by declaring, "There's only one that is a little stronger than me: Messi. All the others are behind me."
Considering Balotelli had yet to play his 100th professional career match when he made the statement, you can easily see how brash and cocksure he was, and still is to this day.
Character is an often underestimated element in the makeup of a player. All the great players possess great character; it is in many ways the key foundation to their life as a professional footballer. It requires discipline of monk-like levels, because life off the field directly inputs to life on the field.
If a player enjoys a chaotic life away from football, his game will ultimately suffer because the sport is far more than just kicking a ball. It demands that players concentrate to Olympic levels for over 90 minutes in each game. It requires that every decision, on the pitch, be the correct one because a wrong decision can affect so many people in so many ways. Ultimately, it will affect wages and job prospects for everyone at the club.
There is no doubting that Mario Balotelli has the potential to be a great player.
All the building blocks are there for all to see. He has an almost superhuman physique and stands at 6'2" in his bare feet. This obviously shows that the striker has some levels of discipline deep within his psyche. However, when you analyse how he plays and how he carries himself, you realize he is a vain individual and his constant self-indulgence on the pitch probably reflects his life off it too.
The return is good, 30 goals from 78 games is more than fine in anyone's language, especially for a 22-year-old learning his trade.
However, this season has seen his use dramatically reduced, and in 13 Premier League games this term, he has only played the full 90 once and has scored just one goal.
The problem with his playing style is that Balotelli is very much a Drogba-lite type player. Because of his lack of tactical discipline and self-indulgence, the only real position he can play is as a lone centre-forward.
If, as Mancini has utilized him in the past, he plays out wide in a 4-3-3 or with a parallel partner in a 4-4-2, his game is diminished to such an extent that he might as well not be on the pitch. With Mario, you can now tell within 10 minutes whether he will be effective or not.
When you consider the players that City have at their disposal, and they way they play, you realize that playing with a lone striker does not serve them best. They don't possess natural wide players. When you factor in that Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko are just better players than Mario, you can see why his use at the club is diminishing.
As a lone striker, Balotelli can be devastating on his day, as Germany found to their dismay in the Euro 2012 Semifinals.
However, on top of his lack of discipline and self-indulgent style, he is also incredibly inconsistent. While he can destroy teams in one game, he can be a virtual passenger and do nothing in the next, as Spain found out when he was anonymous in the Euro 2012 Final.
Roberto Mancini has done everything in his power to help Mario Balotelli. A blind man can see the great potential in the youth, but can also see the destructive and adolescent side of his personality.
Given Mancini's quotes on January 1, it would appear that the Italian has no power to move Balotelli on, as the owners like the profile he gives the club. The question must be asked though: Is bad publicity good publicity?
Unless Mancini can learn from his past mistakes like Jose Mourinho did, Mario Balotelli will burn him too. In a recent interview with Pedro Pinto on CNN TV, Mourinho gave a perfect example of what it was like to manage Balotelli:
“I remember one time when we went to play Kazan in the Champions League. In that match I had all my strikers injured...
"I was really in trouble and Mario was the only one. Mario got a yellow card in the 42nd minute, so when I got to the dressing room at half-time I spent about 14 minutes of the 15 available speaking only to Mario.
I said to him: ‘Mario, I cannot change you, I have no strikers on the bench, so don’t touch anybody and play only with the ball. If we lose the ball, no reaction. If someone provokes you, no reaction. If the referee makes a mistake, no reaction.’
"What happened next? The 46th minute–red card.”
This small but significant story from Mourinho gives us an insight into the type of player and personality of Balotelli.
Most of all, it shows that he simply does not listen, and this is probably his greatest fault of all.
No one is doubting his quality as a player. If he led the proper life of professional footballer, he could potentially challenge Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to the title of being the world's best player.
This can be the only reason Manchester City are holding onto him. They are deathly afraid that he will fulfill this potential elsewhere if they let him go. However, after five seasons and some 160 games, he has shown none of the professionalism, character or focus to be even considered a certainty in Roberto Mancini's starting 11, never mind being regarded as one of the best players on the planet.
Given his earlier comments, it looks like Roberto Mancini's hands are tied at Manchester City and that he has little input into the comings or goings at the club. Different managers have different styles, but one key aspect links them all–they do not suffer fools, especially at their expense.
Who will leave City first?
Unless Mancini can coax his wayward striker into becoming a real footballer, or move him on, the only future for the 48-year-old is one without Manchester City, because Mario Balotelli will ultimately get him sacked.
Statistics provided by www.soccerbase.com and www.premierleague.com.
You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon