Ian Herbert: City manager's blind spot exposed by his indulgence of Balotelli's flaws

 

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Roberto Mancini knows all about players who would spill blood for a Manchester City manager. He saw it in those players he inherited in 2009, struggling to transfer their loyalties from Mark Hughes to him. He still views that time as perhaps his toughest at City.

He has never been too bothered about feeling the love himself, though. On the Italian television show Le Iene, where guests are asked to describe themselves with one word, Mancini chose "genius" and there was no irony attached. It is his belief that he has a peripheral football vision others lack, which explains why his regime can be so unflinching at times. There's the training hill he has had built at Carrington – much like the one Rafael Benitez introduced at Melwood. There are the training times he will have sent to players at 11pm the night before games, keeping them on their toes; the humiliating early substitutions; the negative public comments.

The problem with genius, of course, is that it can often lack a common touch. It required a human instinct on Saturday, for instance, to know how James Milner would feel to get a touchline dressing down over Sunderland's first two goals in a 3-3 draw. The same instinct, had Mancini possessed one, would have told him that the sight of Mario Balotelli swanning around the pitch made Milner's sense of injustice worse. The way Balotelli, right, is indulged is beginning to have a deeply corrosive effect in City's dressing room, though Mancini is immune, not bothered or both, because he considers the striker to be a fellow member of the genius club.

Such is Mancini's blind spot; it means that as he heads towards the moment of reckoning with City's Abu Dhabi owners, he does not have a lot of people at his club whom he can call friends or allies. It's been rocky at times over the past year, and the only individuals whom he seems to have time for are his fellow Italians. "I trust only my personal doctor," he said on Saturday when the subject of Sergio Aguero's treatment by City staff cropped up. Imagine how the rest of the medical staff felt.

Chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak's desire that City build themselves around a philosophy of shaping good individuals, as well as good players, must create some deep unease about Balotelli's conduct and Mancini's indulgence of it. Yet Mancini realised from the start that his relationship with Mubarak, if none other, must be nurtured. Mancini's assistant, David Platt, will often attend to the detail of strategy meetings with the City board, while the Italian himself takes care of the all-important phone calls to Mubarak.

City need some stability to take their last step to a domestic title. It is why it would be folly to part company with Mancini now. But before another summer of reshaping takes place, perhaps Mubarak will manage to get Mancini out on one of those senior management awaydays that Hughes always threw himself into with such gusto. That will provide the opportunity to put the manager straight in some of the basic tenets of team leadership.

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