Manchester City are urgently trying to establish the cause of the allergic reaction which forced Mario Balotelli's departure from their Europa League defeat in Kiev, with Velcro and other fabrics under consideration as well as the more probable cause – grass.
Though the 20-year-old's failure to arrive for the second half in temperatures of -6C raised scorn in some quarters, with the former City defender and BBC summariser Danny Mills among those unimpressed, Balotelli has experienced several mild forms of the same allergic urticaria during his seven-month City career and two similar incidents caused him serious alarm while at Internazionale. Balotelli is ready to undertake allergy tests himself to solve the problem.
City medical staff had adrenalin on hand both in the stadium and later at Kiev airport on Thursday, in case the reaction which left Balotelli with sores on his back, legs and feet and swelling to his face, lips and tongue developed into anaphylactic shock. City's readiness for a severe escalation of the swelling – adrenalin is used when problems occur with the heart's rhythms – reveals why they are treating the events of Thursday night seriously. Two double doses of strong antihistamine failed to ireduce the swelling to Balotelli's face in the dressing room at the Valeriy Lobanovsky Stadium and City insist Balotelli arrived late for the second half because doctors – who have ruled out fertilisers or chemicals as a cause – were trying to deal with his symptoms. Balotelli trained yesterday and is fit for tomorrow's FA Cup tie with Reading.
Doctors at Carrington have been aware of Balotelli's allergy for months, and Internazionale came across it in November 2009, when Balotelli was forced to cut short a good performance for Jose Mourinho's side against Palermo at San Siro because of an allergic reaction to antibiotics. Mourinho seemed to accept Balotelli's condition – the Italian had scored that day – though he was less sympathetic in March last year when Balotelli complained of a high temperature and was forced to leave Inter's match against Genoa. Mourinho said he did not believe his story and declared sarcastically that it would be unethical to force him to play.
Balotelli's awareness of how rapidly the allergic reaction can take hold was the cause of his alarm when he experienced a repeat in Kiev. His concern that a medical crisis may have been enveloping him was obvious to some players on the Kiev pitch. Balotelli's mother, Silvia, recalls being told her adoptive son might have an allergy when he developed occasional leg rashes playing on artificial surfaces as a young boy and at that age mosquito bites would also cause him major swelling. Medical staff at Inter, who found him to be allergic to several medical products, concluded that Balotelli's susceptibility to allergies may have its roots in his childhood.
There is a frustration among some close to Balotelli that a potentially dangerous medical condition is being used to denigrate him again and City certainly feel that if a more obviously industrious player were to experience such problems then it would pass without comment. The occurrences are not frequent enough to suggest they will impede Balotelli's development.
In Italy, there appears to be more acceptance of Balotelli's problem. Only last weekend, the Lazio striker Giuseppe Sculli was taken to hospital during a 2-0 win over Palermo after suffering an allergic reaction to the paint used to colour the grass on the pitch. Lazio's coach, Edy Reja, said Sculli was "swelling up and turning pink, like a prawn" and was experiencing severe discomfort when his eyes became swollen. It is thought Sculli suffered the reaction when celebrating his goal by rolling about on the pitch with team-mates. In France, Bordeaux's Yoan Gouffran has been diagnosed with a grass allergy while golf's Ian Poulter revealed this week that he had been diagnosed as allergic to all but one of 64 types of grass.
Mancini is willing to show far more patience than Mourinho, though the fear is that the perpetual controversy which surrounds the striker may persuade him to yield to what is an obvious temptation this summer and swap Manchester for the greater security of Milan.