Plenty of trouble for Roberto

City’s billionaire owners have poured vast sums of money into the club, yet results have yet to be commensurate with such expense. And manager Mancini’s man-management skills are glaringly ineffectual, writes Brian Glanville.

Irredeemable, unpredictable, intransigent; Mario Balotelli is alas all of those things, and the latest, dramatic clash with his Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini on the training field looks to have been the last straw. As we know, Mancini was incensed by a dangerous challenge made by Balotelli on an opponent in that training game, as a consequence of which he tried to send Balotelli off, which resulted in a deeply embarrassing episode of grappling.

The irony of it is that Balotelli arguably owes his career to Mancini.

He it was who took Balotelli from an obscure little nearby club as a teenager, put him into the Inter Milan team which Mancini then so successfully managed, and encouraged him even to the extent of deputing him to take any free-kicks from extensive range with his powerful right foot, ahead of far more experienced team-mates. Balotelli flourished though note that well before he left Milan for Manchester, he had to contend with racism.

Fans of the rival Juventus club sang a spiteful chorus of, “if we jump up and down Balotelli will die.” In parenthesis, the events on the ground of Pro Patria is Busto Arsizio, the now peripheral little northern Italian club which, in the remote 1950s, had several years in Serie A, all too plainly emphasised the racism endemic in Italian football. When Milan went there to play a friendly game, the racist jeering by Pro Patria fans was such that Milan’s black midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng of Ghana marched off the field in protest and disgust, followed by the rest of his team.

As for Balotelli, he too is of Ghanaian extraction. That he has Italian nationality and is now a well established Italian international is thanks to the fact that he was born to immigrant parents in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. But, as a child, he moved to the mainland to distant Brescia where he was adopted by Italian parents. His natural father and mother to their dismay have been allowed little or no contact with him in the ensuing years.

It is fair to assume that at Inter, Mancini became a kind of father figure to the young Balotelli and perhaps this father-son relationship is at the root of their recent troubles, with Balotelli no longer disposed to see Mancini as a mentor and an authority. Though goodness knows his eccentric streak, often manifested off the field, has been shown in a long series of disruptive episodes. Yet in the 2010 European Championship finals Balotelli, warned by his Italy team manager that any indiscipline would not be countenanced, Balotelli had a serene enough tournament and an effective one. Whether this was because he took the warning to heart or because there was no such clash of personality as he plainly now has with Mancini is a matter of some speculation.

It may be recalled that when it came to the last World Cup, the then Italy manager, Marcello Lippi, would not take the risk of choosing either of his two salient “flair” players, Balotelli and Antonio Cassano with the result that his team lacked surprise and invention. Cassano in fact, brought up in the back streets of Bari in south-east Italy, has arguably had a still more hectic career than Balotelli, moving expensively from one club to another, admitting that on one occasion, when in Italy training camp at Trigoria, the Roma training ground, with the Azzurri, he defied discipline by sneaking a girlfriend into his quarters under the surrounding barriers.

But what of Mancini himself? True, he last season won the first English championship for so many years for City, but it was by a mere whisker on the last day of the season and merely on goal difference from bitter local rivals Manchester City, thanks to a winning goal in extra-time against a Queens Park Rangers team reduced to ten men. And last season, like this, City went out at the very first stage of the European Champions League with Mancini making strange choices in both competitions, one of which arguably cost, in 2010, an embarrassing defeat at Bayern Munich, while last year, even modest Ajax humiliated City in Amsterdam.

As for so called “man-management”, Mancini has too often seemed maladroit. Craig Bellamy, that ebullient Welsh international, claims that Mancini forced him to train normally on a painfully damaged knee.

The young keeper Joe Hart was criticised by Mancini for impugning City’s tactics after defeating Real Madrid, Mancini having allowed him to be interviewed by a television reporter immediately after the game was over and Hart was plainly still distressed. And the right back Micah Richards was rebuked by Mancini for complaining that his tactical switches during the Ajax defeat were confusing.

City’s billionaire owners have poured vast sums of money into the club, yet results have yet to be commensurate with such expense. But if Balotelli does move on can anyone handle him more successfully than Mancini?