London – Roberto Mancini may have raised a chuckle with his David Platt impression, but there were few laughs when he reflected on how troubled striker Mario Balotelli has become a pale imitation of his old self.
After losing his cool at a pre-match press conference earlier this month, and leaving Platt to field questions at the next one, the Manchester City manager tried to lighten the mood by wearing a mask of his assistant as he took his seat in the media room at the club’s Carrington training base.
It had the desired effect, as he removed it with a broad grin and asked: ‘Who do you prefer, David or me?’ But the smile soon disappeared, as he turned his attention to sulky striker Balotelli and revealed how a suspect attitude in training had cost him a place in City’s squad against Tottenham last weekend.
In an outspoken attack that surely points to the Italian being off-loaded in January, Mancini said: “If some player does not work well, he does not deserve to be involved, and that applies to Mario as much as anyone else. It is difficult to play at this level if you don’t work hard. What you do on the training pitch will benefit you in the game. Mario needs to work harder, and that is why he was not involved. I am not talking about ability or form but his attitude in training. It has not been good enough.
“I took the decision because he didn’t work well for three days.”
Both Milan clubs are closely monitoring a relationship between Mancini and Balotelli that appears close to breaking point and are ready to tempt City with offers in January.
“We are not like a married couple, as some people seem to think,” added Mancini. “‘I just know him as a guy, a member of the squad.
“It wasn’t a punishment against Tottenham, just that others were working better and deserved a place among the substitutes more than him.”
Mancini was more supportive of Joe Hart, following criticism of his England performance in Stockholm on Wednesday, but warned he wasn’t immune from being dropped.
“Costel Pantilimon is a good keeper, and if Joe does not play well for five or six games, probably I can change that position,’ he said. “For me Joe is the best keeper in England. He is strong mentally and will be OK.”