Mario Balotelli jeopardised his relationship with the one figure at Manchester City who has supported him throughout his troubled time in England yesterday when he became involved in an extraordinary shoving match with Roberto Mancini at the club's training ground. It is bound to cast even more doubts on his future at the club.
The open nature of City's training complex at Carrington, which has public footpaths running down two sides of it, meant that the embarrassing episode was captured by photographers.
The pictures show the City manager, Mancini, reacting angrily to Balotelli kicking out at Scott Sinclair, above, and ordering the player to leave the training ground. Balotelli refuses and his manager tries, unsuccessfully, to drag him away. Eventually the two are separated by coaches Brian Kidd and Massimo Battara and the player belatedly goes in to change.
As usual with incidents involving Balotelli, the overwhelming sense is of embarrassment on all sides– for the player himself, who seems incapable of doing as he is told, and for Mancini as he struggles to shift his robust 22-year-old striker, having clearly lost his temper with the Italian.
The initial reaction from the club yesterday was that this was simply another "Mario moment" and that the confrontation was over in a matter of seconds before Balotelli was ushered away. But the fact that this time it was with his manager, rather than a team-mate, makes it different and no one could say for certain how Mancini would react.
The City manager will announce at his press conference today whether he intends to fine Balotelli for his insubordination. As it stands, the feeling at the club yesterday was that the player would still be in the squad for tomorrow's FA Cup third-round tie against Watford, although Mancini has given himself time to reflect on the incident.
It is yet another training ground fight for Balotelli – to go with those he has had in the past with Jérôme Boateng, Yaya Touré and Micah Richards – but this one evidently has a greater edge to it, given Mancini's unstinting support for the player in spite of grave doubts within the club.
The relationship between Mancini and Balotelli was cited as crucial in the player reversing his threat to take the club to a tribunal over a £340,000 fine for his on-pitch disciplinary record last season. Balotelli dropped the case, he said in a statement last month, "as a sign of respect for Roberto Mancini" – a respect that was lacking yesterday.