Roberto Mancini is in no mood to jettison Mario Balotelli from Manchester City just yet
City manager retains affection for wayward striker and maintains focus on halting the slide
Whatever damage Mario Balotelli may have wrought on Manchester City's season so far, and the collapse of their lead in the Premier League can hardly be blamed on him alone, there was no mood at the club yesterday to throw him out immediately.
The 22-year-old will face a three-match ban regardless following his red card at the end of Sunday's defeat to Arsenal, and there is a possibility a further six games will be added if he is also retrospectively punished for the stamp on Alex Song. Either way, the Balotelli issue is not the most pressing concern on Roberto Mancini's desk at the moment.
The City manager is more preoccupied with the slim possibility of making up an eight-point gap to Manchester United over the last six games of the season, and he will also want to ensure that, if the title is lost, it is not lost when United visit the Etihad on 30 April. For the time being Balotelli, the 22-year-old who has proved borderline uncontrollable at times this season, is a problem for another day.
Nevertheless, the mood on the City squad's flight back from London on Sunday after the match was not for kicking the young Italian out the club. In his post-match press conference, Mancini answered "probably" to a question about whether he would sell the player in the summer but was at pains to clarify to club officials later that it was not at the forefront of his mind.
Put simply, the City manager, for all his authoritarianism and his stand-offish disposition, likes Balotelli. His protestations towards the end of his press conference on Sunday that he "loved" Balotelli and did not wish to see the adopted son of white Italian parents thrown on to the scrap heap were, according to those close to Mancini, entirely genuine.
Despite Balotelli's performance against Arsenal, almost entirely destructive to his own club's cause, his team-mates are not yet at the mutiny stage over his behaviour. It does not go unnoticed that Balotelli is given a longer leash than some of his team-mates – not least in his frequent visits back to Italy – and while it has caused problems it does not extend as far as his team-mates wishing he was out of the club.
The player himself is tolerated by team-mates, even if he does test patience at times. As one source close to the situation said yesterday, "If Mario was a complete d***, he wouldn't have lasted as long as he has at the club."
The Italian's agent, Mino Raiola, said yesterday that Balotelli had apologised for his actions during the game on Sunday. Balotelli was photographed yesterday at City's Carrington training ground, where he spent around an hour. Raiola said: "I talked with Balotelli, the boy was sorry for what happened. Mancini said he will be sold? I'm going to speak directly with Roberto and with the club, but I don't think they will really do it."
While Balotelli's life is often, accurately, characterised as chaotic and the player himself as uncaring about the consequences of his actions, a story about his private life that emerged last week is understood to have caused him considerable upset. The player was outed for having an affair with Jennie Thompson, the same woman who alleged that she had a relationship with Wayne Rooney in 2010.
Thompson gave her side of the story to the Sun on Sunday, published on the day of the Arsenal game. Balotelli knew that these revelations were coming out for weeks in advance of their public disclosure. He is in a long-term relationship with his Italian girlfriend, Raffaela Fico.
In terms of City's fading challenge – they play West Bromwich Albion at home tomorrow night – the midfielder James Milner said that it had been the club's dismal away form that had let them down. They have taken one point from their last three games away from home.
Milner said: "We have played well for the majority of the season, but have come unstuck for whatever reason over the past few weeks, most of the time away from home. We have been very strong at home, but away have not got the results we want. It is about having that ruthlessness on the road which we can learn from."
For the time being Mancini's position will be reviewed by chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak at the end of the season. There have been no clear signs yet from the club's Abu Dhabi owners that they are restless for change but a complete collapse in the remaining six games of the season would change the picture.
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