Recently departed Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was right about Mario Balotelli all along, but the 48-year-old manager's inability to make the most of the 22-year-old Italian international, now AC Milan's star No. 9, will be his biggest regret to date.
When a then-17-year-old Balotelli scored a brace on his Coppa Italia debut against Reggina, three days removed from making his Serie A debut, Mancini knew he had a special player, one whose upside was higher than Goran Slavkovski.
Two years earlier, Mancini had given Slavkovski, touted as the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a debut against Siena, which made the Wunderkind the youngest Nerazzurri player since Inter Milan legend Giuseppe Bergomi.
Slavkovski never showed a desire to overcome adversity, whereas Balotelli, who didn’t have much respect for anyone according to Mancini's Inter assistant, Sinisa Mihajlović, craved success in such a maniac state that he spat the dummy whenever things didn't go his way.
Balotelli forced Inter management to cater to his needs, knowing they couldn't relinquish him, but that all changed once Jose Mourinho arrived as Roberto Mancini's replacement. Mancini went down swinging, with La Gazzetta dello Sport reporting him as saying, "I have instructed my lawyer to protect my image in all competent courts, censuring the actions of my former employer for its misuse of bogus and illegal episodes that have gravely offended my honour and reputation."
Balotelli was to Mourinho what Phil Bardsley is to Paolo Di Canio.
The Portuguese manager publicly shamed Balotelli time after time to the point where Marco Materazzi, a Mourinho loyalist, went to the lengths of slapping and throwing a shoe at Balotelli.
Balotelli sought refuge with his former manager, Mancini, who had moved to Manchester City and at the time was the antithesis of Mourinho.ESPNStar.com reported Balotelli on why he thought Mancini was more to his style.
Mancini is different from Mourinho. They are both great managers but they are different men.
Mancini supports me. Mourinho was different. Whenever I had a problem, Mourinho always went against me. When I have a problem here, Mancini always supports me.
Did Mancini always support Balotelli?
February 28, 2011 in The Metro: "He scored a fantastic goal but there were still 70 minutes left I am not happy with Mario. He can’t lose the ball all the time. Every time the ball went to the front, we didn't keep it."
March 18, 2011 from Reuters: "When he does something stupid like that, it is difficult for me, difficult for him and difficult for the team. I don't think he will be in the squad."
April 5, 2012 via ESPN FC: "I told him, 'If you played with me, 10 years ago, I give to you every day one punch in your head!'"
April 8, 2012 via Dominic Fifield at The Guardian: "I'm finished. We have six games left and he will not play."
December 9, 2012 via Football Italia: "I love Mario as a guy and a player, but it is important for him to start to think about his job. When you have a player of this quality you can’t understand that he could continue to throw this out of the window. This is incredible."
Mourinho kept his distance from Balotelli, whereas Mancini used Balotelli as a running joke. Even when he praised his protege, it came across as backhanded compliments.
The real extent of their relationship was exposed to the world by BBC Sport on January 3, 2013: "A picture agency has released photographs it says were taken on Thursday morning of the pair having to be separated by staff and team-mates at Carrington training ground."
26 days later, Manchester City sold Balotelli to AC Milan.
It's an indictment on Mancini that Balotelli, who hasn't changed his abrasive personality since, has scored 12 goals in 13 Serie A games for Milan under the unobtrusive management of Massimiliano Allegri.
According to Sky Sports, Balotelli gave Allegri a ringing endorsement, saying, "When I got here, Allegri was in charge and we get on really well. I hope he stays, as I'm really happy with him. If I were the club, I'd do everything to keep hold of him."
In an interview with CNN's Pedro Pinto and James Masters, Balotelli alluded to dressing room unrest during Mancini's reign: "Obviously there were some problems inside. I am here so I don't know."
He would surely have been included in the squad for 1986, but on a tour of the United States, he came back late after a night out in New York and found Bearzot waiting for him.
"Perhaps I was wrong not to apologise," Mancini said, "but I had done nothing wrong. And Bearzot swore never to select me."
The most notorious and protracted of his strops came during the 1990 World Cup, and was directed against the coach Azeglio Vicini.
Vicini announced Mancini would be "the surprise of the World Cup"
"Yeah, the surprise was that I never got to play," Mancini moaned later. "70 days! 70 days I'll never get back."
His hopes of going to the USA World Cup ended in March 1994, when he reacted furiously to being substituted at half-time of a friendly against Germany.
Arrigo Sacchi refused to pick Mancini again. His international career ended that night, with 34 caps.
Balotelli has yet to emulate what Mancini did as captain in 1995, as James Nursey at The Mirror outlines.
Mancini initially totally lost it with referee Marcello Nicchi after being denied a penalty and was dragged away by Inter goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca.
Mancini flung off his captain's armband and stormed to the dug-out to tell boss Sven Goran Eriksson he was never going to play again.
Eriksson persuaded him to return but Mancini was soon sent off for a lunge at Ince after just 34 minutes and banned for six games.
"Sven is a teacher and, if you spend so many years with one manager, you take something from him," said Mancini when describing his mentor Sven-Göran Eriksson, one of the few managers who tolerated Mancini's immaturity, petulance and volcanic persona.
Despite having been in Balotelli's position, Mancini spoke with a holier-than-thou persona, nagging and complaining about Balotelli—all characteristics he hated from managers during his playing days.
If Mancini had managed Balotelli the way he was managed by Sven-Göran Eriksson, there wouldn't have been a poignant farewell message in the Manchester Evening News.