Mancini happy to indulge erratic genius of 'City's Cantona'
There is a tale told by Eric Cantona's Manchester United team-mates to emphasise the concessions afforded to the Frenchman by Alex Ferguson during his time at Old Trafford.
During his pomp in the mid-1990s Cantona, so his team-mates believed, had Ferguson wrapped around his little finger and was able to push the boundaries way beyond the limits of his less celebrated colleagues, yet when he strolled into Manchester Town Hall, minus his club tie, for a formal reception to recognise United's latest trophy success, his suited and booted fellow players expected their manager's patience to finally snap.
Yet Ferguson merely shrugged, patted Cantona on the back and led the rest of his players into the banqueting hall. Another day, another blind eye turned.
Privileges are often afforded to the exceptional and Mario Balotelli has already had his own Town Hall moment under the management of Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.
Five months ago, after City ended a 35-year wait for silverware by lifting the FA Cup, a three-line whip to attend the subsequent trophy parade from the Town Hall to Eastlands applied to every member of Mancini's squad bar Balotelli, who had been given permission to return to Italy by his manager.
Although Mancini's predecessor, Mark Hughes, has muttered his misgivings over the Italian's 'autocratic' nature and reluctance to 'indulge' his players, Balotelli is proving to be Mancini's Cantona.
The 20-year-old plays with fire -- and fireworks -- seemingly on a weekly basis, yet continues to be spared the iron fist which Mancini often applies to the rest of his squad.
There have been blow-ups, most notably when Mancini substituted Balotelli after attempting to back-heel at goal during a friendly against LA Galaxy, but there is a softness to their relationship -- forged when the pair worked together at Inter Milan -- and a willingness on Mancini's part to accept Balotelli's eccentricities.
Just like Ferguson with Cantona, Mancini realises Balotelli's brilliance justifies the individual approach. Yet there is also a myth developing around Mancini's ruthlessness with the rest of his players, one helped along by the breakdown of his relationship with Carlos Tevez.
Mancini undoubtedly takes a resolute approach. Fallouts at Inter with temperamental figures such as Alvaro Recoba and Luis Figo have been replicated at City in his dealings with Tevez, Robinho, Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Mancini demands reliability and respect from his players. Those who offer both thrive under him, the others are shipped out.
The disparate group of individuals and egos which failed to gel as a team under Hughes has now become a formidable unit through Mancini's pruning and recruitment.
The secret of Mancini's success centres on Balotelli and his ability to have his handling of the maverick accepted by the rest of the squad.
At United, Cantona's special status was never questioned due to his ability to inspire victories and, despite friction at City last season as a result of Mancini's treatment of his protege, success on the pitch has ensured that there is no disharmony over Balotelli's handling. (© Daily Telegraph, London)