Balotelli still part of City community

Mancini's faith in his difficult but talented striker will be on show at Wembley today, writes Tim Rich
Click to follow
The Independent Football

"They want my runs. They don't want me." With that, Geoffrey Boycott summed up the place of all outsiders in team sports.

Fortunately for him, the greatest living Yorkshireman scored a lot of runs and for that the selfishness and the acidic asides were forgiven. Talent requires tolerance.

In 1992, Eric Cantona produced one of the finest performances of any Charity or Community Shield as Leeds beat Liverpool 4-3 at Wembley. It should have earned him a long stay at Elland Road. Instead, by November Howard Wilkinson wanted to rid himself of a man whose individualism he could never allow for. Three years later, Alex Ferguson would weave through the streets of Paris, riding pillion on a motorbike in a bid to keep Cantona at Manchester United. Wilkinson would not have driven to Wakefield in a seven-series BMW.

For Ferguson, read Roberto Mancini and substitute Mario Balotelli for Cantona. Mancini is a hard man. Asked about Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor, two strikers on Manchester City's books, the essence of Mancini's reply was that they could either find themselves other clubs or rot. They would never play for him again.

Balotelli, however, is different. Their rapport has elements of the tortured, father-son relationship Paul Gascoigne and Bobby Robson endured – a bedrock of understanding and a dollop of exasperation.

"I have more patience with players who are young," Mancini said of the 20-year-old Balotelli, to whom he gave a full debut four years ago, at Internazionale. "I understand that he is homesick and I am patient with him, although sometimes I am disappointed in him. He needs experience and he understands that he needs to improve his behaviour. When I spoke to him last time he said: 'Boss, I want to be here.' He lives in the city centre and he does not have his family with him. They are in Italy and sometimes they do come here but they cannot live here permanently."

Mancini is more concerned with Balotelli's behaviour on the pitch. It is not in interviews where (as in the case of Carlos Tevez) the striker makes clear his dislike for Manchester. Consider his failed back-heel against Los Angeles Galaxy, when every other footballer would have shot, or his chest-high lunge against Dynamo Kiev's Goran Popov that effectively saw Manchester City eliminated from last season's Europa League.

"He wanted to kill me," was how Balotelli described his manager's reaction. Even one of his best displays – against United in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley – was marred by a post-match row with Rio Ferdinand.

"I have known him since he was at Inter. He was better then," Mancini laughed. "No, Mario was a fantastic guy and I don't say that because I bought him or because I am his manager, it is because he is a fantastic guy. Off the field he is sometimes capable of incredible behaviour. On the pitch, sometimes he doesn't think. When I was a young player, we were stronger, mentally, than they are now. We were hungry then, we had less money, we wanted to become top players and we were prepared to give up everything for this. We were serious. When I was young, 17 or 18, I made mistakes like all of you have. But when you are 20 it is time that you change because a player's career is not long – 10 or 12 years. It is important that Mario understands this."

Mancini said United were "five yards ahead of City". Although the prospect of Wesley Sneijder lingers – City yesterday denied they had made a £31.4 million bid for the Dutchman, as was reported in Italy – Ferguson has conducted his transfer business early. He and Mancini expect City to sign at least another two players.

This will be Ferguson's 16th Charity or Community Shield and the United manager accepts that because of the opposition, the fixture will be weighted with emotion. Ferguson has seen off every challenger, from Liverpool to Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal and Chelsea. City may be the last enemy, although he has identified their weakness – they are combining a challenge for the title with a first tilt at the Champions League.

"It affected Tottenham last season," he said. "You have these European nights, come home late and then have a lunchtime kick-off on a Saturday which is absolutely ridiculous but which you can't do anything about because Sky dominate the game.

"The Champions League is not easy but it is the game afterwards that is difficult to prepare for. I always look at the fixtures after the European draws and say: 'Are we away from home? What time do we kick-off?' I remember a couple of seasons ago we had a game in Rome and then a 12 o'clock kick-off at Stamford Bridge. We lost 2-1 and it was a nightmare, an absolute nightmare."

Four shield matches that meant something

1957: Manchester United 4 Aston Villa 0

It did not start the season (it was played in October) and it was at Old Trafford rather than Wembley. However, it showed the effortless superiority of the Busby Babes. Tommy Taylor, who was to be killed at Munich, struck a hat-trick. Johnny Berry, who never played again after the disaster, scored the other.

1962: Ipswich Town 1 Tottenham 5

Ipswich had won the title immediately after being promoted but this was a sign that their dominance would be short-lived, once Alf Ramsey had moved to become England manager. Unable to cope with Jimmy Greaves, Ipswich began a season in which they finished 17th. By 1964 they were relegated.

1978: Nottingham Forest 5 Ipswich 0

Forest, like Ipswich in 1962, had won the title after promotion but this ruthless display was an indicator they were here to stay. Forest scored from virtually every chance they created against Bobby Robson's side, who had won the FA Cup while staving off relegation. By the end of the season, Forest would be European champions

1996: Manchester United 4 Newcastle United 0

They should have won the title in May but by August, Kevin Keegan's Newcastle had bought Alan Shearer (pictured) for a then world-record fee of £15 million. However, what was supposed to be retribution was undermined by some typically atrocious defending. Shearer was to collect only losers medals on Tyneside.