James Lawton: Enigma shows grotesque and great sides of character in season-defining victory

Balotelli is Balotelli. An asset and problem Mancini has decided that he will live with

The Etihad Stadium

Maybe only Mario Balotelli could quite so effectively deface a game that he came to decide in its last moments.

It was a superb game and Balotelli is, of course, a superb talent but that didn't seem to matter so much when he delivered a stamping on the head of Scott Parker with what seemed to be cold deliberation.

The last World Cup final referee, Howard Webb, missed the incident but it seems inevitable that the FA will be required to intervene.

This grotesque moment came in a game that might just have decided the Premier League title, a collision which burnt slowly and eventually glowed. Balotelli, of course, can do almost anything. Without, apparently, any reflection on the flashpoint with Parker he was composed enough to lure a previously excellent Ledley King into a tackle that made a penalty – and City's victory – almost inevitable.

It certainly finished that way when Balotelli produced another example of his trademarked nonchalance when given firing-squad duties. The enigma, of course, will rage on as long as Balotelli wears any colour of football shirt. His ability to be both exquisitely creative on the field and at times eccentrically kind off it are qualities that are forever thrust into a darker place.

In football the greatest requirement, apart from the enviable levels of skill that Balotelli touches so frequently, is a degree of professional consistency. If there was any doubt about the inherent contradictions of this young player it surely rested in the fact that he had decided this hugely significant match at a time when a vigilant referee would already have dispatched him to the dressing room.

Certainly, the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, made it clear that if he envied his City rival Roberto Mancini's three points – and a massive stride towards the title – he could hardly imagine having to deal with questions about Balotelli. He said that he was happy it wasn't his problem, having to react to something that you should never see on a football field.

Certainly, if Redknapp felt great angst at the late slippage of a match which his team had appeared to have rescued with nerve and another stunning example of the extraordinary talent of one of the game's other superstars, the less tumultuous Gareth Bale, he was quite content to leave the questions of what anyone does about Mario beyond the northern end of the M1.

Bale, who in one morning headline was announced as a "£150m man", scored a goal which, if not quite worthy of such a breathtaking fee, was certainly one of the highest quality.

Bale, who is said to be at the top of the shopping lists of such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, started as tentatively as any of the major figures on either side. But like Sergio Aguero and, more surprisingly, the recently lukewarm Samir Nasri for City, and his team-mate Luka Modric, he came beautifully to the pitch of the game. His equalising goal, after Jermain Defoe had exploited a moment of City defensive slackness which brought a full blast of Italian rage from Mancini, brought a total hush to the stadium. It had that kind of impact. The formidable Joe Hart didn't have a chance to react, nor did anyone who had imagined so recently that City had taken an unshakeable hold on the game.

Tottenham had come here shouting the odds about their willingness to go toe to toe with City, not to mention provide a crushing example of what could be produced in the way of team-building on roughly half the budget. It was a stance that could have gone horribly, humiliatingly wrong but the worst that Tottenham did was lose a marvellous game in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Above all, Tottenham showed that whatever the outcome of this title race, they have announced themselves as a serious team playing some of the most beguiling football available in the Premier League. Bale was especially impressive and, certainly, it is hard not to believe that Tottenham will come under immense pressure to sell him at the end of the season. Apart from that spectacular equaliser, he came within an inch of delivering the coup de grâce. With pace and confidence that were reminiscent of the impact he made in Tottenham's Champions League campaign last season, he carried the ball down the left and played a perfect cross into the path of Defoe.

Later Redknapp lamented the fact that Defoe had probably changed his run pattern by just a fraction, a fact which denied Tottenham a perfect strike.

For City all this, of course, is in the margins of a dramatic day. Balotelli is Balotelli, an asset and a problem that Mancini has decided he is prepared to live with through both the ups and the downs. Yesterday he may have counted himself ahead in a difficult equation, but then he hasn't heard from the FA yet.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'