Balotelli's absence casts shadow over City celebrations
Manchester City's FA Cup parade was soured last night by the absence of Wembley man of the match Mario Balotelli, who ignored the club's instructions to join the open-top bus tour before fans who had waited 35 years for silverware. City manager Roberto Mancini stood accused of affording special treatment to Balotelli by granting him dispensation to miss the parade and also the club's player of the year awards on Sunday night, where he was named young player of the year. Micah Richards collected the prize for the 20-year-old striker.
Mancini's permission to miss the two events did not go down well in all quarters at City, as it flew in the face of a letter chief executive Garry Cook had written to all players, reminding them of their responsibilities to be present and warning them that they would be fined if they did not comply.
Though one source last night suggested that Balotelli had been allowed to leave early for family reasons, the Italian's family know of no such reason and believe he should have remained in Manchester for the events. The player's unpredictable and headstrong nature makes it notoriously difficult to schedule him into public events at the best of times but the reluctance of an individual who commands £170,000-a-week salary to stay a few days longer will not impress supporters who had begun to take him to heart after his difficult season. Balotelli, who flew out to Italy at the weekend, will probably conclude that a fine of two weeks' salary will not hurt him.
City captain Carlos Tevez, whose presence had seemed highly doubtful until four hours before the procession, put in what was to many City executives was a surprise appearance, having delayed a flight home to Buenos Aires until 10pm last night. Tevez was pictured at the back of the bus with the FA Cup as it pulled away from Albert Square in the city centre.
The club's decision to wait until nine days after the Cup final before staging the tour contributed to the difficulties in securing the goodwill of a few players, who might otherwise have left Manchester. But the uncertainties about those players' willingness to meet Cook's requests underlines the problems the club have in controlling some players. Mancini also ducked a scheduled appearance at a press conference in the Lord Mayor's parlour, which was timetabled to take place before the players boarded an open top bus wrapped with a poster of fans doing the "Poznan" celebration which they have made their own.
Mancini's assistant Brian Kidd appeared in his place but it was left to Vincent Kompany – named City fans' player of the year on Sunday and for many a far more natural choice than Tevez as club captain – to express the club's delight last night as he paraded the FA Cup before the cameras. Kompany, who had delayed plans to join up with the Dutch national squad so he would be present at the parade, said the trophy was a signal of the club's intent to win far more.
"We had a good season but the reality is we didn't finish champions, so there's obviously a gap between first place and second and third," Kompany said. "We will do everything we can to bridge that gap and overtake [the others]. If the club decides to buy [this summer] it will make sense, but hopefully this team will be stronger, regardless of that. United – and only United because we've got equal points with Chelsea – have done better than us in those games. We will do better next season than this season and the gap is going to get smaller."
City are preparing for the usual round of stories linking Balotelli to Milan that will almost certainly begin soon – the striker enjoys the attention which accompanies his returns to Italy – but despite initial uncertainties Balotelli has settled in Manchester and will definitely be back at City next season.
As Tevez's future is shrouded in uncertainty for the third successive summer, Kidd said the gap with United would narrow. "When you win something it becomes intoxicating," he said. "You want more of it. Wembley was wonderful, a fantastic atmosphere and without speaking for the lads I think they want more of that."
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