Tevez shows Mario path to redemption
MANCHESTER CITY 3 WATFORD 0
Every time Carlos Tevez steps onto the pitch wearing a Manchester City shirt, it serves as a reminder – to Mario Balotelli in particular – that there are no culs de sac or blind alleys on the road to redemption at the Etihad Stadium.
Such has been Tevez's rehabilitation at City that the memories of how he and the club spent much of last season on a war footing have evaporated to the extent that they really are not mentioned any more.
Whether Tevez's three-month flit to Argentina, following his £396,000 fine for refusing to warm-up as a substitute against Bayern Munich, should even be compared to the persistent offending of Balotelli, whose only crime appears to have been his inability to grow up, is debatable.
However, as Tevez set City on their way to a routine third-round victory against Watford, his return to the fold at least proves that Balotelli can still resurrect his career at the club.
Two days after wrestling with manager Roberto Mancini on the training ground prior to this game, Balotelli was handed his first appearance in a month with a 21-minute cameo appearance as a substitute against Gianfranco Zola's Championship outfit.
For once, Balotelli showed only the good side of his character. He was lively and threatening, but only in a football sense, and appeared to have had some kind of reality check in the wake of his scrap with Mancini.
How long we are kept waiting for the next eruption remains to be seen, but Tevez, whose relationship with Mancini is now as healthy as it has ever been, insists that Balotelli can learn from the mistakes he made last season before calling a truce to his hostilities with the City manager.
"I've been in that moment like Mario," said Tevez. "So I'm always keen to help him and keep him going through these kind of moments, so he doesn't make the same mistakes that I did in the past.
"I try to help him. I talk to him personally, on and off the pitch. I talked to him just before a free-kick we were about to take, and I let him take it so he could improve his confidence, so things can get better and better for him.
"There are these kind of things (clashes between players and manager) that have happened at all the clubs I've been at. But here at City, the spotlight is always on us, as it is always on Roberto and Mario, so it always comes out, but this kind of thing happens everywhere."
Tevez's positive outlook on Balotelli's situation was echoed by Zola, who embraced the player at the end of the game before visibly offering him some fatherly advice on the touchline.
Zola, who worked with Balotelli while assisting Pierluigi Casiraghi as Italy U-21 coach, said: "It would be a challenge for me to manage Mario, that's for sure. He would force me to be creative.
"But I think he can be handled. Roberto is doing well with him. There are always margins of improvement to everything but I'm sure Roberto is getting something out of him.
"I only had Mario for one game (with Italy U-21s), but anyone can be handled. It's finding the right buttons to push."
By introducing Balotelli to the action once this tie had been won, perhaps Mancini has learned to press the right button in terms of using the player only once any volatility has been taken out of a game.
His future remains under a cloud, with Mancini and City prepared to sell him this month if a suitable offer comes in, but that was the case with Tevez last January and he has transformed his situation since returning to the club.
The former Manchester United forward's first-half free-kick, a blistering strike from 25 yards after he had been fouled by John Eustace, set City on the way to victory before Gareth Barry's header from James Milner's cross two minutes before half-time made the game safe.
There was still time for Balotelli to test Watford goalkeeper Jonathan Bond with two ferocious shots late in the game and from his second, the 17-year-old Marcos Lopes scored a debut goal by pouncing on the rebound.
Lopes, who cost City £790,000 as a 15-year-old, will return to the club's development squad today, but assistant manager David Platt insists he has a bright future.
"His selection was a reflection on his ability," Platt said. "Roberto (Mancini) made his Serie A debut at 16 because he had ability in abundance.
"It is nothing to do with age with Roberto – he talks about the ability, and he was not worried about putting kids on the bench, even though we did not have a great deal of scope with the amount of injuries, the suspension and players away on international duty." (© Daily Telegraph, London)