The end is near for Super Mario – and he has nobody but himself to blame
On one side of the football firmament, in a moment of resistance that sent a powerful message around the world, a player stood up for what he believed in. On the other, there was Super Mario scrapping with the boss on the training ground in a clueless act of petulance.
Kevin-Prince Boateng did what the authorities should have done years ago. He said enough is enough and, in the 26th minute of Milan's friendly with Pro Patria, brought proceedings to an end in the face of racist chanting. Boateng kicked the ball in the direction of the vile boneheads abusing him in the crowd and walked magnificently from the pitch, taking 21 players and the match officials with him.
This was not in some far-flung corner in the heel of Italy, but Busto Arsizio, an enclave to the north of Milan in the heart of Lombardy. In one principled act broadcast across the globe via the internet, the midfielder elevated himself and football to a new level of consciousness and responsibility that ought to have profound consequences for all who care about the game.
Meanwhile, Balotelli drew even deeper on his inexhaustible reserves of puerile selfishness to defy the authority of his manager.
Entertaining as Balotelli's eruptions are for the galleries, they confer only embarrassment on the club. The biggest belly laugh yesterday could be heard across the Carrington fence in the office of Alex Ferguson. As if a seven-point lead were not enough, his nearest rivals offer the gift of a self-inflicted imbroglio guaranteed to drain from Mancini the focus he should be bringing to closing the gap at the top of the Premier League.
The value of Balotelli to Manchester City is said to be in the brand awareness he brings to the club. Their Abu Dhabi owners invested millions in a project they hoped would act as a vehicle to drive interest in the Emirate state and the wider region.
Balotelli is a favourite with owner Sheikh Mansour who, despite the misdemeanours, looks the other way because of the attention the player attracts, and the perceived glow.
The divine comedy associated with the spirited Italian has hitherto been attributed to youth, his eccentricities acceptable within his peculiar arc of genius. But how long before Balotelli is seen as a humiliation to a regal institution acutely sensitive to perception in a country where social mores fall on the conservative side of the spectrum?
The greater concern for Balotelli is the contrast between this latest episode and his performances on the pitch, the arena in which he is paid to entertain. Balotelli has scored only one league goal this season. His apologists might argue that he has not played enough. This might be the reason why.
Brilliant as his displays were for Italy in last summer's European Championship finals, Balotelli is a player who still can't be trusted. Consistency comes with the acceptance of his responsibility and a retreat from the childish sense of self that places him at the centre of the universe. 'Why always me?' he asked in a legend scrawled on his undergarment. The answer, Mario, is because you make it so.
While the world waits for Balotelli to grow up, he is at risk of seeing his importance to City shrink to vanishing point.
If he loses the goodwill of Mancini, who has arguably done more than any to help him, what hope is there? Yaya Toure is off to the African Cup of Nations, Sergio Aguero to the treatment table nursing a hamstring.
This ought to have been Balotelli's time. Instead his time might be up. And he has only himself to blame. (© Independent News Service)