Training ground fracas with Mancini puts Balotelli's future in doubt yet again
Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini had to be pulled apart after an angry training ground bust-up between the pair yesterday raised yet more questions over the striker’s long-term future at Manchester City.
A Balotelli challenge on Scott Sinclair towards the end of yesterday morning’s session was too severe for Mancini’s liking, with the manager subsequently involved in a grappling match with his Italian compatriot. The entire fracas was captured by a photographer, with the duo separated by members of the City coaching staff before Balotelli returned to the dressing room. He departed the training ground only 10 minutes later.
One City insider has described the spat as a “storm in a teacup” and said “it was forgotten about instantly” but the club still acknowledge the significance of the high-profile and now widespread images. Mancini was pictured still wagging his finger as he entered the office building – it is the latest in a long line of incidents that have tested City’s patience with the player since he signed in 2010.
There is no immediate suggestion that Balotelli will be officially punished by the club – in fact, the photographs arguably show Mancini as the aggressor – but that much will remain unclear until the manager speaks today.
The automatic assertion that a fracas with the manager will trigger the end of Balotelli’s colourful spell in Manchester would also be a bold one. Clubs may balk at signing a player who collects €209,557 a week, and City are also likely to seek at least €24 million for his signature. Thus far, Milan have been the only club consistently linked with the striker.
Still, Mancini has been the only figure at City to offer regular backing to Balotelli during turbulent times. With that in mind, the first indication of a breakdown in the relationship between the manager and his 22-year-old forward cannot be ignored. Previously, Mancini has referred to what he regards as exaggerated coverage of Balotelli’s behaviour, claiming “every time Mario does something, it is like a war”.
At the end of last month, Mancini moved to dismiss the notion that Balotelli would be moved on during this transfer window. Earlier in December, the player had dropped a tribunal case against the Premier League champions over the fine he was issued with for a poor disciplinary record last season.
“I think Mario will stay but the future depends mostly on him,” Mancini told the Italian media. “Sheikh Mansour likes Balotelli because he recognises the talent and he exports the name of City over the world.
“We need to consider that Mario was made as a major investment, and this is not a club that throws its capital through the window.
“The relationship between me and him is always good, even if one day he does something. I love him because for many years we live together. I’ve seen him grow. But the professional relationship is another thing and I’ve told Mario what I need from him. The time of cheap talk is over. Balotelli is 22 years old and now it’s time to be professional. I ask from him seriousness and commitment in training, a more stable private life and correct behaviour on the pitch.”
Indeed, it is far from inconceivable that Balotelli will return to the City lineup for tomorrow’s FA Cup meeting with Watford having recovered from a virus.
Mancini’s attacking options for that tie have been limited by the hamstring injury incurred by Sergio Aguero, who will definitely miss the Watford game and is rated as doubtful for City’s meeting with Arsenal on January 13th. Aguero limped out of City’s 3-0 win over Stoke City on New Year’s Day.
City’s Carrington training centre is adjacent to a public footpath, with the council unwilling to let the club build higher fencing for privacy. Because of that, incidents such as the one yesterday morning are more likely to be captured than if they occurred at other clubs. City will move to a new training ground in 2014.