Sunday 8 December 2019

James Lawton: Balotelli being tolerated more than Best

Mario Balotelli (left) laughs with Scott Sinclair during a training session.
Mario Balotelli (left) laughs with Scott Sinclair during a training session.

James Lawton

Alex Ferguson is never slow to exploit the embarrassments of a rival and he must have felt the latest Mario Balotelli disaster was Christmas and Hogmanay rolled into one.

While Roberto Mancini was making still another pitiful defence of a situation which strips both himself and his club of a little more credibility with each passing day, Ferguson made a small quip about having wolves in the trees around his own training camp as a deterrent to the camera men who this week captured so easily the latest City fiasco.

If the Balotelli story hadn't become such an unremitting joke, Ferguson might have made quite a number of more serious points.

One of them was that the tradition he inherited from Matt Busby had come under the kind of threat imposed by Balotelli only once, and then it was from a player who possessed roughly five times the talent of the Italian. It was provided by George Best (pictured), whose downward cycle challenged the basis of the Busby regime more gravely than anything either side of the Munich tragedy.

Busby was haunted by the knowledge that the brilliance of Best had dragged him further than he would have wished from the principle that no one was bigger than the team.

The great manager once walked from his office at the old Cliff training ground to one of the pitches after seeing a passing incident involving a young player. Busby did not raise his arms in the manner of Mancini this week after Balotelli's lunge at a team-mate. He said simply, "This is not Manchester United." He then returned, a certain serenity restored.

It is a memory provoked by the acrobatics demanded of Mancini as he tries to explain time and again why he persists in the belief that Balotelli will one day make a serious contribution to City.

A former coach, Jose Mourinho, once delivered a damning verdict on Balotelli in his Internazionale days. The coach said he could not tolerate a young player so unwilling to put in the work levels accepted happily by men of vastly greater experience and achievement.

Even yesterday Mancini was disputing that assessment and it was not a pretty sight. It could never be that, not when a football man of considerable achievement moved uncomfortably close to the point of ridicule.

He said he would give his protege another 100 chances, which, it was necessary to fear, was roughly 99 more than he might be giving himself. (© Independent News Service)

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