City succumb to combination of folly and fatigue

Manchester City 1 Dynamo Kiev 0 (Dynamo Kiev win 2-1 on aggregate)

Ian Herbert
Friday 18 March 2011 01:00

It was Mario Balotelli's downtime that Manchester City worried about when they signed him and why they organised go-karting and safari park trips to fill his hours. Managing his time on a football field, it transpires, presents a different level of difficulty entirely. The question last night was whether Roberto Mancini has the powers to nurture the player he insisted the club should buy into one who can be a force for the collective good on the field.

There are no signs he is succeeding. It is no exaggeration to say Mancini is the only individual at the club who can exert any influence over him, but the eye-popping moment when Balotelli leapt into a challenge on Goran Popov and left stud marks on the Kiev defender's chest and right thigh shortened the odds considerably on him turning his back on Manchester and opting for less money and more comfort at Milan next season.

All the usual signs were there. The sap rising, the gestures to referee Cuneyt Cakir – and then the challenge. Balotelli left the field with an allergy to grass in the Ukrainian capital but here was a wholly new definition of the word "rash".

Though City's exit from the Europa League owed something to the abysmal display of the Turkish referee, who allowed an extraordinary level of time-wasting and gamesmanship by Kiev, the dismissal was entirely justified. Just another instalment in a Balotelli career punctuated by all the wrong kind of noises: the dismissal at West Bromwich, the fit of pique with Mancini at West Ham, the refusal to attend his own recuperation from a knee injury sustained on debut, the training ground fight with Jerome Boateng.

Balotelli's departure from England would deprive the country of one of its most beguiling imports – an individual, for example, with a genuine interest in environmentalism and the travails of child soldiers. But intelligence is nothing without game intelligence. He plays for himself, not his team, it was put to Mancini last night – and the manager could not bring himself to disagree.

Whether an exit from the Europa League genuinely hurts is doubtful. Mancini and his club crave a top-four place vastly more than this piece of silverware, and 48 games into the season they are wilting. But the way the manager leapt into every last shot and challenge, such as substitute Edin Dzeko's late swivel shot and Yaya Touré's free-kick, underlined the damage Balotelli had done. Even at 10 versus 11 City were vastly superior.

If Balotelli had made his mark very much earlier, when the ball was at his feet, then the night might have taken a different direction. The fifth-minute shot he ballooned over in Ukraine a week ago was nothing compared with the shot he shanked over the bar here. Carlos Tevez fired wide, too, in the early stages of a game in which Richards operated powerfully as a wing-back.

But, following the dismissal it was from the depths of hopelessness that Kolarov took on David Silva's short free-kick and his only consistently useful asset – his left-foot shot – delivered a goal through a crowded area. City dominated the second half, too. Tevez ran and ran with an indefatigability which will delight Chelsea ahead of Sunday's meeting in west London. But there was more art than ammunition at several crucial moments and Silva was guilty of too many touches at times.

Mancini is considering fining Balotelli and dropping him on Sunday, though if the player is to stay beyond the summer, Mancini must go back to work on him. He understands his 20-year-old compatriot in a way Jose Mourinho, at Internazionale, never did, though Mourinho's analysis of Balotelli from a year ago had a ring of truth about it last night. "A player has to make sacrifices," Mourinho said. "Balotelli has only one neuron in his brain."

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Kolarov (Milner, 88), Lescott, Kompany, Richards; Barry (Johnson, 71 Y Touré; De Jong, Balotelli, Tevez; Silva (Dzeko, 76). Substitutes not used Taylor (gk), Wright-Phillips, Vieira, Boyata.

Dynamo Kiev (4-2-3-1): Shovkovsky; Silva, Almeida, Yussuf, Popv; Eremenko, Vukojevic; Gusev, Ninkovic (Zozulya, 45), Yarmolenko (Betao, 90); Shevchenko (Garmash, 62). Substitutes not used Koval (gk), Rybalka, Nesmachnyi, Gusmao.

Referee C Cakir (Turkey).

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments