Manchester City are taking a substantial risk by going outside of disciplinary guidelines to fine Mario Balotelli £340,000, resulting in a legal case which could drag on into next year. The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) is surprised that City have charged the Italian with misconduct and fined him two weeks' wages, because guidelines they have put in place with all clubs and the Premier League do not entitle sides to fine players for a general accumulation of yellow and red cards – as the Premier League champions are doing in Balotelli's case.
City can point to the disrepute Balotelli has brought upon the club and manager Roberto Mancini's persistent attempts to tackle a disciplinary record which saw the striker miss 11 of the club's 54 games – 20.37 per cent – last season.
The Premier League champions, who ascribe huge importance to the way players' conduct reflects on the positive image of the club, will argue the 22-year-old Italian is in breach of his own contract when they face him at a Premier League tribunal in London tomorrow. But experts in the field believe that the PFA/Premier League guidelines – which only allow clubs to fine players for a sequence of dissent and violent conduct charges – will take precedence over the contract. City are confident they will win their highly unusual case against Balotelli, whom they fined at the end of last season because of a pattern of on-field behaviour. But even if the two-man tribunal rejects Balotelli's appeal against their fine, the player can take it to a Football League appeals committee, dragging the public dispute into next year. Potentially the legal case could stretch beyond his career at the Etihad, if this public spat does prove the last straw for him there.
City also went outside PFA and Premier League guidelines last season, when they attempted to fine Carlos Tevez four weeks wages, later reduced to two, after the PFA backed the striker's argument that he had not refused to play as a substitute against Bayern Munich.
This time, Balotelli's lawyers are expected to draw heavily on the disciplinary template agreed several years ago by the PFA, the Premier League, Football League and all clubs, relating to "field discipline." It provided a way of clubs being able to fine players for violent conduct and dissent – the two acts which the clubs were very keen to wipe out of the game – with fines ratcheting up each time a player was cautioned or dismissed for those two offences, in the course of a season.
The guidelines were laid down to prevent players challenging clubs' attempts to fine them and the PFA feel that the system is robust. The accumulation system means that players cautioned a third time for dissent are fined 40 per cent of their weekly wages, while a third dismissal for violent conduct brings the maximum fine of two weeks' wages.
But nowhere is there anything agreed for a general accumulation of yellows and reds and that is why Balotelli is within his rights to take the case to tribunal. His lawyers are likely to argue that clubs cannot use the guidelines when it suits them and then cherry pick the cases where they want to disregard them. There are few precedents in cases like this as few clubs have attempted to go beyond the guidelines.
Mancini's senior players and some of his coaching staff are so disenchanted with Balotelli and his distracting dressing room presence that they have told the manager he should jettison him in January. They contend that Balotelli's occasional moments of effectiveness on the field are now far outweighed by the detriment he is causing the club, on and off the field. Senior figures hope Mancini leaves him out of the first-team picture over Christmas, starting with Saturday's home game with Reading.
Balotelli will have Italian lawyers representing him at the Premier League tribunal, where the PFA will be acting for him in an advisory capacity to translate the nuances, with the union's former chairman, Richard Jobson, liaising.