The Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli could eventually be forced out of England by referees, his agent, Mino Raiola, warned last night.
"Mario doesn't want to leave the club. It's fantastic, he loves it and feels at home," Raiola said, with Balotelli facing a four-game ban for stamping. "But if every week some referee [does this] with Mario, maybe you say, 'That's enough', and he goes to another country."
Raiola suggested the possibility of official imbalance. "If I find that there is something strange against Balotelli," he said, "my duty is to protect and then take him away."
City's first-team coach, David Platt, yesterday disputed referee Howard Webb's claim that he had not seen Balotelli's stamp on Scott Parker on Sunday, and criticised "Monday morning refereeing".
Balotelli was given a four-match ban for violent conduct on Monday, on the grounds that Webb had not seen the incident during Sunday afternoon's game beteen City and Tottenham Hotspur, but that had the referee seen it he would have sent Balotelli off.
Platt said that he had now watched the incident many times and from several angles and was convinced Webb did see it at the time: "I have seen it from an angle that makes me think the referee saw it live," Platt said. "Nobody, not one of the Tottenham players or staff or the referee, reacted to it live." Platt argued that if Balotelli was going to be retrospectively punished, then all unpunished fouls should be reviewed.
In his report, the referee noted that he had seen City defender Joleon Lescott's forearm smash on Younes Kaboul and had decided to let play continue. "There seems to be a huge inconsistency in refereeing matches on a Monday morning," Platt argued. "If you are going to look at law 12 [violent conduct], shouldn't you then revisit everything that has happened over the weekend under law 12?"
The FA confirmed last night it would not be charging Peter Crouch over an incident during Saturday's match between Stoke and West Bromwich when Crouch appeared to make contact with Jonas Olsson's eye area.
Platt said that City were unlikely to appeal against Balotelli's ban. They have until 6pm tonight to lodge an appeal, but since City would risk a further ban for Balotelli should the appeal be deemed frivolous, they were wary of doing so. If there is no appeal, Balotelli's ban will begin with tonight's Carling Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool. Platt argued that since Manchester City did not appeal over the dismissal of captain Vincent Kompany for a clean but studs-up challenge on Nani during the recent FA Cup defeat by Manchester United, Balotelli's case would be too much of a risk. Platt conceded the incident "did not look good" for his player.
"Is there anyone in this room who thinks we might have won an appeal over Vincent Kompany?" he asked. "I don't think there is but I think the majority of people watching would say he didn't deserve a red card, so that shows the futility of the appeal."
However, Platt conceded that his striker's offence had been a serious one and that it would be difficult to defend in any appeal. "Whichever way you look at it, when you slow it down to all the angles, it doesn't look good," he said.
Should City accept the punishment, Balotelli will miss not just tonight's semi-final at Anfield but also three Premier League fixtures – away at Everton, a club who have been a persistent thorn in their manager Roberto Mancini's side, away at Aston Villa and at home to Fulham.
Winning through to their first League Cup final since Dennis Tueart's overhead kick secured the trophy in 1976 would be by far the steepest hurdle, especially given the 1-0 deficit they carry into the semi-final second leg. Balotelli's display in the first leg was one of his worst in a City shirt; sluggish, sulky and sometimes uninterested. City's first-half performance, which saw a naïve penalty given away by Stefan Savic, was entirely devoid of inspiration.
Liverpool have lost at Anfield only once since Kenny Dalglish's return, a little over a year ago. Platt, however, remained confident in City's players: "We believe we have enough in our squad to turn the tie around."