Patrick Vieira defends troubled Mario Balotelli
Patrick Vieira has urged Mario Balotelli's army of critics to cut him some slack.
Balotelli has still not been a Manchester City player for 12 months but his list of misdemeanours already extends further than most players manage in an entire career.
The Italian striker was lambasted by his own manager, Roberto Mancini, for showboating during a pre-season game in Los Angeles last month and Gary Neville branded his efforts during Sunday's Community Shield "an embarrassment".
Few would argue Balotelli has not made mistakes.
However, Vieira believes it is worth remembering the former Inter Milan star doesn't celebrate his 21st birthday until tomorrow.
And he is convinced it won't be long before Balotelli is channelling his energies into a wholly positive contribution.
"People forget how young Mario really is," said the former City midfielder, who retired this summer to take up an ambassadorial role with the club.
"He is a really young boy. He will make mistakes. I made a few in my career.
"Hopefully this year he will learn from them.
"Mario is a really talented footballer and I hope he can show everybody how good he is."
Balotelli might have more competition for first-team places soon too.
Although City are maintaining a discreet silence over their interest in Samir Nasri, discussions behind the scenes are believed to be ongoing and it would be a major surprise if the France midfielder did not arrive at the Etihad Stadium before September 1.
France coach Laurent Blanc said before his country's midweek international with Chile that Nasri would benefit from having his future resolved and a lacklustre performance in Montpellier before he was substituted merely strengthened that belief.
Nasri would become Mancini's fifth summer signing. The fourth, Romanian keeper Costel Pantilimon had his work permit granted today but the third and most expensive, £38million record signing Sergio Aguero, is yet to play for his new club after spending all Sunday's Wembley defeat on the bench.
Still, Vieira is certain Aguero can have a major impact for the Blues this season.
"He has been really good so far," said Vieira.
"It was a shame that he could not play in the Community Shield but he is a big asset.
"His pedigree is really good and he can bring a lot to the football club."
Mancini still has issues to resolve, not least what to do with Carlos Tevez, who has returned to training but still hopes to leave before the transfer window closes.
It is anticipated Tevez will feature in Monday night's opener with Swansea, although under the circumstances, it is difficult to see how he can be retained as captain.
Still, Vieira does not believe that uncertainty, or the alarming manner of City losing a two-goal lead to Manchester United last weekend, should detract from a season of promise.
"We can win the title," he said.
"We have improved since last year. Winning the FA Cup and finishing third has given us the belief.
"We believe we can challenge Chelsea, Manchester United and the rest of the teams to lift the championship."
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