James Lawton: Mancini is losing his battle for the heart and mind of £24m Italian

How does City manager Roberto Mancini get to grips with justifying his £24m gamble on Mario Balotelli? The odds against it looked formidable yesterday

No doubt Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini had some reasons to celebrate the possibility of new levels of fluency and dynamism in his expensive but still unproven attacking force.

They hinged on the one-two combination with which Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko condemned a brave and at one point menacing Notts County to the sword. But if the Argentine's intervention after an hour brought familiar bite and a sharply improved level of cohesion when linking with the big Bosnian, he also turned a spotlight on a problem that is surely beginning to haunt City's manager.

How on earth does he get to grips with the challenge of justifying his £24m gamble on Mario Balotelli?

Of course Mancini has already made a bold and, some would say, enlightened case for the project.

At Internazionale he saw the wonderful gifts of the young contender. He saw great power and touch and if Balotelli's nature was turbulent and erratic, if his demons sometimes went on the rampage, he knew a reclamation job might just produce brilliant results.

Balotelli had, after all, a difficult upbringing and a deep conflict of emotions when his natural parents, African immigrants, who had agreed to his adoption by an Italian family, attempted to reclaim their parentage. Balotelli talked of "opportunism" in the wake of his success as a footballer. He also had to deal with some of the worst of the racism endemic in northern Italy.

But Mancini could work his way through such problems. He knew the boy and he knew his worth.

He would take the odds and beat them. Unfortunately those odds looked ever more formidable yesterday, and if you were in any doubt about this you only had to look into the expressions of Mancini and his old pro assistant Brian Kidd when Balotelli hurled down his snood and marched off into the tunnel after his replacement in a game which he had barely brushed against.

Except, that is, when he earned a yellow card for an ugly and gratuitous foul on one of County's more creative players, Alan Gow. That was depressing enough, but even more worrying was the demeanour of a player who at 20 insists that he adores the game.

He looked angry, embittered and dislocated – a condition that had developed long before he turned in the box and accidentally collided with defender Krystian Pearce. That may have given him a sore head but the biggest worry had to be his spirit.

That the Balotelli exercise is in some crisis is plain enough, not least by the scant requirement to read between the lines in a pre-match statement by Kidd. He said: "Mario has had a wee injury problem but it appears everything is sorted out. He's another great talent. I think we have a really great squad, no doubt about it.

"Carlos has always stepped up to the plate and he's a fantastic player. But if you go through the clubs who have been successful, invariably they have four strikers who will be competing for places." Translation: Balotelli, who has already talked of returning to Italy while at the same time expressing the mutual affection he has for Manchester, and especially with those fellow apartment dwellers apparently charmed by his habit of launching fireworks from the building's ninth floor, had better get a little more serious about the challenge he faces, and considerably more equable, in the near future.

City will surely see the summer as another opportunity to both clear out and augment their current squad and yesterday at least it was not hard to guess that Balotelli's place is again a matter for some debate.

Mancini, like any man who has made a commitment, and challenged his own ability to succeed in drawing the best out of a player of unquestionably sweet and formidable ability, will certainly be reluctant to accept defeat. But maybe the die is already cast.

This was Balotelli back in Milan after he had been suspended for indiscipline and provocative behaviour, including appearing on a high-profile Italian news show wearing the red and black of rivals Milan: "I am sorry for the situation that has been created recently. I am the first person to suffer because I adore football and I want to play, and now I'm waiting in silence so I can return to being useful for my team.

"I want to put the past behind me and look to the future and concentrate on upcoming commitments. I want to make myself ready."

Around about that time his then coach, Jose Mourinho, declared that in one match Balotelli had come close to a "zero rating" and added: "As far as I'm concerned a young boy cannot allow himself to train less than [Luis] Figo, [Ivan] Cordoba and [Javier] Zanetti." It was a withering verdict by a man famous for winning the affection of his dressing room – and turning it into a potent resource.

So far Mancini, whatever his other virtues, is still in search of such a source of strength and yesterday his expression, as Balotelli left the field, suggested he might just have been given another insight into quite what Mourinho had been saying.

Yet, who knows, City may be on their way now. The FA Cup is probably not what Mancini had in mind when he said that only silverware would truly strengthen the team mentality, but with Villa and the winners of Everton v Reading having to come to the City of Manchester Stadium the old bauble might prove the catalyst he craves.

For quite some time yesterday County's second attempt to undermine the plutocrats made City's late authority seem like a remote possibility indeed; almost, you have to say, as long a shot as a smile appearing on the face of the young man who says he is still in love with football. We know that love hurts, but this was ridiculous.



Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'