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Balotelli pleads his innocence

Manchester City's Mario Balotelli last night insisted "I am not a villain", after accepting a four-match ban that will keep him out of his club's push for the Premier League title until late next month.

"I have accepted the ban because I couldn't prove my innocence," Balotelli said. "But I'm not a villain or violent."

The 21-year-old said his apparent stamp in last Sunday's Premier League victory over Tottenham, which left Scott Parker with a cut to his face, was unintentional.

"I didn't try to (place my) heel (on) Parker," Balotelli added.

City's decision to forego an appeal was based on the conclusion that there was next to no chance of success.

The striker was unavailable for the Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool last night and he will also miss Premier League fixtures against Everton, Fulham and Aston Villa, before being available for City's challenging return to European competition, in the Europa League against Porto, who are undefeated in Portugal's Primeira Liga.

His future beyond the end of the season is in some doubt, though privately Roberto Mancini is convinced that the player's loyalty to him will enable him to overcome his latest setback in the Premier League.

Mancini's desire to be rid of Carlos Tevez -- having said last Friday that it was "impossible" to offer him another game for City -- appeared to hinge last night on Milan making an offer to the club's satisfaction, after Inter yesterday said they were no longer interested.

Inter board member Marco Tronchetti Provera said: "Now we're no longer interested in Tevez. He is following a different path."

Though an attempt to re-engineer last summer's putative move to Argentina's Boca Juniors cannot be ruled out, the options are running out for Tevez.

Some hopes are retained that Milan may return to the table yet despite personal terms having been agreed between the club, Tevez and his agent Kia Joorabchian, there has been no indication that the club are willing to improve on the loan offer, which is not to City's satisfaction.

City are resigned to the fact that they will secure only about £25m for Tevez and while they are prepared to see him spend the rest of the season at San Siro on loan with a guarantee of a permanent transfer to Milan, chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak would still demand £25m.

The only club who covet Tevez and also have the resources to pay his wages are the Qatari-backed Paris St-Germain, though talks between the club and Joorabchian foundered after fewer than four hours last Friday. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent