Roberto Mancini has made the bold claim that his young striker Mario Balotelli can, within two years, be as powerful a force in world football as Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney – all Manchester United favourites – have been.
The 20-year-old has his latest chance to make an impact on the Premier League today, having completed the three-match ban that has further frustrated his introduction. Mancini, who is tempted to start with him at Stoke City, insisted that issues with his temperament are his only impediment. "There are a few players in the past like him," Mancini said. "Cantona, Ronaldo, Rooney. I think if Mario thinks very well and changes his character – maybe not all of his character because it is difficult – then if he wants to, he will be one of the top players in the next one or two years."
Balotelli's straight red card at West Bromwich Albion, for a hack at Youssouf Mulumbu, means he has still had only two City starts and only one of his four appearances has not resulted in a yellow or red card. Mancini is attempting to nurture his £24m striker – the delivery van for Roma, importers of fine Italian food, trundling into the Carrington training ground early yesterday morning revealed that much – but there is a fine line between effecting a change in a character and losing the idiosyncrasies that make him the force he is. Mancini intends to speak to Balotelli about the fact that opposition players will seek to capitalise on perceived mental weakness by attempting to wind him up.
"I think we are all different," the manager said. "Maybe when you are 20 years old your behaviour is not perfect every day. My behaviour wasn't perfect every day when I was at that age. But this is normal. He must just understand that he must show different behaviour on the pitch. I think after three, four or five games he'll understand that if he shows good behaviour on the pitch and doesn't argue with the referee it will make a difference."
Patrick Vieira has been asked to help Balotelli find his way, though Joe Hart is another who has warmed to a player whose three weeks out of the domestic game brought racist abuse by his own compatriots while representing Italy against Romania in Austria. "His English is brilliant; a lot better than [we] expected it to be," Hart said. "People are going to have opinions of him but I think he is big enough and ugly enough to take that on board."
Balotelli's presence further dents the hopes of Emmanuel Adebayor who, as The Independent revealed this week, City are willing to accept offers for in January. Mancini repeatedly said yesterday that players "must do well" when given the opportunity and he reiterated that he has no sympathy for those who complain about warming a bench: "They must understand that, in a top team, it is impossible to always play. If we lose a striker [in January], we must get another one."
With Gareth Barry and Jérôme Boateng both expected to overcome ankle trouble, Mancini finally has all six of his summer signings fit to appear at the Britannia Stadium, where City suffered FA Cup elimination last February, when Adebayor was dismissed. "It's not easy for foreign players to come here and play well but it's a great time to have them all fit with so many games coming up," said Mancini, displaying a distinctive City woolly hat to match his scarf. Stoke, with Jonathan Walters having recovered from the groin strain he sustained despite scoring twice at West Brom, have won their past three games.Reuse content