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.



Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game