James Lawton: Balotelli's legal challenge is final chapter of a futile story

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The Independent Online

It comes when Mario Balotelli appears before a Premier League panel with the argument that Manchester City behaved unreasonably – and illegally – when they docked him two weeks' wages for the trifling crime of ruling himself out of one fifth of the club's programme because of an accumulation of red and yellow cards.

This, Baltotelli's lawyer will insist, is in contradiction of an agreement between Premier League clubs and the players' union that serial misbehaviour is not in itself grounds for such a huge penalty. Yes, huge. Balotelli's financial loss was an eye-glazing £340,000.

The average-earning City fan would have to work 13 unblemished years to match the two-week reward denied Balotelli. It is something the fan might be better off not reflecting upon for fear of wondering whether he is not so much supporting his favourite team as contributing to an offence against reason.

Of course in a reasonably hinged culture Balotelli would be told not to waste the time of people engaged in the real world. But then it is quite some time since football in general, and City in particular, could be said to be living in such a place.

It doesn't help that the latest Balotelli controversy comes hard on Twitter claims that, in the year of his outrageous defection, Carlos Tevez earned, after tax and National Insurance, a salary close to £5m. Despite such wealth, Tevez went home to Argentina for emotional relief and to play lots of golf. After his insubordination in the Munich Champions League game, Tevez read that he would never wear the Sky Blue shirt again.

We know where that resolve ended and inevitably the whole wretched affair is evoked once more by the staggering suggestion that even now manager Roberto Mancini, right, is reluctant to abandon his mission to save Balotelli's career.

In human terms, the ambition may be laudable but as part of the working policy of the manager of a football club charged with taking it to the very highest level it can never have looked more quixotic.

If Balotelli's time at City has had any purpose it may be that he has unwittingly drawn a line between mad indulgence and the requirements of a professionally coherent organisation. Should Balotelli win today it may just have the benefit of signalling the need not just for tighter forms of justice but also a deeper understanding of a collective responsibility for a desperately declining image.

It is certainly heartening to hear talk of the FA's resolve to both deepen its battle against racism and at last tackle the scandal of unfettered wrestling in the penalty area. Such encouragement, though, will surely be retarded by any Balotelli escape from punishment.

He has come to represent the game at its anarchic worst. His surly walks down the tunnel after fresh examples of his failure to understand the rigours of professionalism have become a persistent rebuke to the operating standards of one of the world's richest football clubs. It doesn't really matter how you categorise his offences, whether as the product of wilful arrogance and disrespect for the game or simply unshakeable evidence of a disordered psyche, the result is the same. It is relentless disruption of the team, paid for at a rate of £170,000 a week.

Whatever the verdict, City are obliged to see the outcome as the end of an experiment in trust and faith. In terms of natural justice, they were entitled to deduct not two but 10 weeks of unearned salary. Certainly they must see Balotelli's decision to fight their decision as the last chapter of an extremely futile story.

It is grounds enough for City and the rest of the game to press for stronger sanctions against the worst of indiscipline. They pay the earth and in City's case suffer two of the most outrageous cases of professional irresponsibility.

Balotelli was brusquely rejected by Jose Mourinho on the grounds that some talent is just not worth the trouble. Mancini took the opposite view and it is one that has never looked further from vindication. His painful lesson is one which must be heeded by all sections of the game.