The Balotelli Conundrum – a defence of sorts

Another week, another drama in the life of Mario Balotelli. Except, this time, Manchester City’s maverick striker looks to have blown it as his red-card at the Emirates capped a reckless performance. Asked whether he’d look to sell the Italian in the summer, Roberto Mancini answered “probably” as his patience finally eroded.

The pair have a curious relationship: during his time as Inter manager, Mancini took the young Balotelli under his wing. Compliments had rained down on the striker after emerging in Serie A as a prodigal 17-year-old but as fantastic as some brief cameos were, the lasting impression he gave from his time in Italy was of unfulfilled potential and very obvious signs of a poor attitude.

Through his many shenanigans, Mancini has always been there to defend him – like a good manager is supposed to do. But following the defeat at Arsenal, it seemed Balotelli’s biggest fan had finally given up on him. Mancini stated: “City cannot afford to play Balotelli anymore. He will sit out for the rest of the season.” With that, it looks increasingly likely that the game against Arsenal was his final appearance in a sky blue shirt.

From setting fire to his bathroom to allegedly stamping on Scott Parker’s head and throwing darts at youth team players to almost breaking Alex Song’s leg, his time in England has been eventful to say the least. But for the great value his antics have provided, we’ve had many of the most entertaining stories about his off-pitch life rubbished by Balotelli as pure fabrication.

The British media has been quick to exploit his mystique through stories that played on his eccentric reputation. But they have been faster to switch tact, this time condemning a man harder than the studs that raked down Song’s shin. Listening to the drivel Jamie Redknapp spouts into the Sky Sports cameras is always an eye-gougingly painful experience but as he sat there laying into Balotelli he marked the moment in which the striker became the City scapegoat. As his never-ending stream of venom was fired at the Italian throughout the coverage, it became painfully apparent of just how tough a ride Balotelli is given. Would it be the same if Jack Wilshere had the same attitude? Probably not.

Initially it suited everyone to enjoy Balotelli’s every caper. Whilst City sat on top of the Premier League, his behaviour was tolerated. However, now eight points behind United, someone must take the blame for a remarkable implosion.

But of course, that is the duty of the media – they are there to laud the entertainment but to deliver the death knell on the ridiculous. What is irksome though, is the faux surprise that Balotelli could dare be as idiotic as he was on Sunday. The signs have been there throughout his entire career, not least his brief time in Manchester. He is still in the infancy of his career and will most definitely learn from his mistakes (see the apology issued on Monday) but to state that he has thrown the title through his poor performance is extreme hyperbole.

What about Carlos Tevez? Isn’t it funny how the striker that left City in the lurch as he headed to Argentina for a five month jolly is receiving less criticism than Balotelli? Watching coverage of Tevez’s impact as a substitute against Chelsea was embarrassing as the Match of the Day pundits praised his return as if it were a chivalrous act way beyond the call of duty.

For Balotelli’s mistakes, he has plodded through the entire campaign and returned a decent number of goals. His cool demeanour won the points when Tottenham visited the Etihad while his second goal against Sunderland was the spark as City salvaged a point. There is an odd expectation in Britain that every player should hare about the pitch, flying into tackles and giving ‘110%’ in every game. Perhaps that is why Tevez is let off for his ill-discipline? He looks like he cares when he plays, Balotelli doesn’t.

And where does Mancini figure in this story? For the past seven months, he has batted away questions on Balotelli with commendable commitment. However, perhaps it is more telling that as City’s title bid effectively ended, the Mancini life jacket hung around Balotelli’s shoulders was deflated for good. For Mancini, it is no longer worth hanging his reputation on the striker and it’s noticeable that a portion of his team-mates feel the same way. It is easier to pin the blame on Balotelli than take responsibility.

Mancini’s managerial credentials should be questioned, but they are not because he can use the Balotelli sideshow as a shield. It is a debate for another day, but Mancini’s faith in Balotelli has detailed a major flaw in his ability. I wonder if this would have happened at Old Trafford. Would Ferguson allow a 21-year-old to be so publicly vilified? Did he allow that to happen to a young and imprudent Wayne Rooney? No, he protected him through some brash episodes and barren Premier League years and he has emerged a more reliable character. Who expected Rooney to go a domestic season without a yellow card five years ago?

Mancini closed his on-screen interview with Sky Sports by suggesting Balotelli is wasting his talent. The insinuation was clear – if he did not address his commitment to the sport he has such a gift for, his career will be wasted. But maybe we should take a step back. The rebellious, eccentric side to his character and game are why so many football fans and pundits took Balotelli to their hearts. The ‘why always me?’ t-shirt, scoring a goal with his shoulder – they all endeared him to Premier League fans.

No-one can deny Balotelli let City down on Sunday but to call him the root of all problems at City is frankly ridiculous. I fear it is too late for him to recover his reputation and fully expect him to head back to Italy in the summer and that is a great shame. I’ll leave you with a James Milner quote from last summer:

“Mario is Mario, he does some strange things sometimes.”


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