Mario Balotelli's gravest misdemeanour in a tempestuous 18-month Premier League career saw him charged with violent conduct and given a four-game ban by the Football Association last night, for an alleged stamp on Tottenham's Scott Parker.
The FA charged the Italian after the referee, Howard Webb, notified the governing body that he had not seen the incident in City's 3-2 win over Tottenham on Sunday. Having viewed video footage of the game, Webb indicated that he would have sent off Balotelli if he had spotted the challenge.
Webb's report, delivered yesterday, left the FA to use its own discretion. The statutory three-game ban for violent conduct was increased to four because Balotelli (right) has been sent off once before this season, at Liverpool. If City do not appeal the ban it will start with immediate effect, which means the 21-year-old will miss tomorrow night's Carling Cup semi-final second leg at Liverpool as well as Premier League matches at Everton, at home to Fulham and at Aston Villa.
Though the City manager, Roberto Mancini, was infuriated by the FA's decision to impose the same-length ban on his captain, Vincent Kompany, for a challenge on Manchester United's Nani earlier this month, Balotelli's challenge, which left Parker with a cut to the head, looks more difficult to defend. If City appeal they will run the risk of having the ban extended to five games on the basis of their appeal appearing frivolous. An appeal, which would result in a hearing at Wembley on Friday, appears unlikely.
No action has been taken by the FA against City's Joleon Lescott, who appeared to have directed a blow with his arm to Younes Kaboul's face. Webb said he had not seen this incident either but indicated to the FA that he would not have taken action if he had seen the defender's challenge.
The FA looked hard at the 84th-minute challenge. The BBC pundit Lee Dixon argued that Balotelli ought to be given the benefit of the doubt, since he did not appear to be looking at Parker after a shot had been blocked by the England midfielder. Otherwise there was widespread condemnation of a type of challenge that Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, claimed Balotelli had committed before. Greater Manchester Police received two complaints from the public yesterday, relating to Balotelli's apparent stamp, though the pursuit of criminal charges against the Italian would require a complaint from Parker.