Time for Balotelli roadshow to head out of City
So much in the modern world, particularly in the forensically scrutinised world of football, is about perception.
Whatever the cause, intensity and aftermath of yesterday's brief training-ground grapple between Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini, the simple, sad fact for Manchester City is that it looks bad. It paints a picture of dressing-room disharmony.
City, who have worked hard to change their image, are depicted in unflattering, unprofessional terms again. It's another instalment of the antics roadshow. Pity.
Such rucks occur at other clubs, but they have fences and trees to hide indiscretions. Trafford Borough Council intransigence has stymied City attempts to conceal events at Carrington so they are leaving nothing to chance with their next base, the Etihad Campus.
Already, 2,000 special evergreen trees have been ordered by City – they are currently growing in a nursery and should be the appropriate, photographer-defying height and density by summer 2014.
This is the new City, purveyors of attention to detail. The old City of the cock-up kings still lingers, leaving gaps in the leylandii, revealing two employees tussling. City, under their Arab benefactors, should now be about the important, long-term development work planned at the campus and the celebration of role models like Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, James Milner, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and others. City are a serious club undermined by unprofessional behaviour at times.
It is why the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour, should get rid of Balotelli and remind Mancini of his responsibilities. Balotelli is not worth the trouble; he has some commanding games, an FA Cup final here, a European Championship semi-final there, but not consistently.
He's still only 22, and the technical and athletic gifts are considerable, but is the mindset of the moody Blue likely to change?
He's a professional footballer yet too many episodes have made him a bit of a laughing stock, wandering into a prison, having friends who let off fireworks in bathrooms. "He's Mario, he's crazy,'' Mancini observed after a previous escapade, "but I love him because he's a good guy.''
Good? Staff talk of a likeable character, albeit eccentric. But on the pitch he can display a nasty streak. Ask Scott Parker, Bacary Sagna or Alex Song. Taking City to a Premier League tribunal was pathetic; his employers fined him for serial indiscipline, understandably, yet he objected (before caving in). Aguero's hamstring is a concern but he'll return soon and City have Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez in form. Balotelli would not be missed.
Mansour, according to Mancini, likes the striker because he "exports the name of Manchester City all over the world" but the prolific feats of Aguero, the creativity of Silva or the leadership of Kompany add far more to the desired name of a serious, heavyweight club. The car-crashing, ciggy-puffing Balotelli just trails a pantomime feel.
The immediate reaction on seeing those pictures was to wonder whether they had been photo-shopped because the striker's bib was on correctly. He needs to focus on being known as a footballer. "Mad Mario" will get all the "why always him?" headlines but incidents involving him are hardly rare news events.
Blink, miss one, and another comes along shortly. The issue lies less with a player the club should have offloaded some time ago and more with the manager. Mancini should have been above scrapping with a player in training. He's manager of the Premier League champions, an organisation seeking global respect.
It's about perception, about an authority figure looking just that: in charge, not stooping to wrestle with a recalcitrant charge. It's about setting a tone. Mancini is a passionate individual, who reacted strongly, and he was wrong. It looked bad.
But those who feel Mancini should be hurried out the door should think again. This is the man who guided City to the FA Cup, then the Premier League. City's returns in the Champions League have been poor, and Mancini still needs to develop his tactical nous in Europe.
His treatment of good pros like Joleon Lescott is baffling. But he's a good manager, revered by City fans, a man who has brought silverware and glamour to City. Mancini remains part of City's future but Balotelli should be consigned to their past. (© Daily Telegraph, London)