Mario Balotelli jeopardised his relationship with the one figure at Manchester City who has supported him throughout his troubled time in England yesterday when he became involved in an extraordinary shoving match with Roberto Mancini at the club's training ground.
The open nature of City's training complex at Carrington, which has public footpaths running down two sides of it, meant that the embarrassing episode was captured by photographers.
The pictures show Mancini reacting angrily to Balotelli kicking out at Scott Sinclair and ordering the player to leave the training ground. Balotelli refuses and his manager tries, unsuccessfully, to drag him away. Eventually the two are separated by coaches Brian Kidd and Massimo Battara and the player belatedly goes in to change.
As usual with incidents involving Balotelli, the overwhelming sense is of embarrassment on all sides. For the player himself, who seems incapable of doing as he is told, while it does not look particularly edifying for Mancini as he struggles to shift his robust 22-year-old striker, having clearly lost his temper with the player.
The initial reaction from the club yesterday was that this was simply another “Mario moment” and that the confrontation was over in a matter of seconds before Balotelli was ushered away. But the fact that this time it was with his manager, rather than a team-mate, makes it different and no-one could say for certain how Mancini will react.
The City manager will announce at his press conference today whether he intends to fine Balotelli for his insubordination. As it stands, the feeling at the club yesterday was that the player would still be in the squad for tomorrow's FA Cup third-round tie against Watford, although Mancini has given himself time to reflect on the incident.
It is yet another training ground fight for Balotelli - to go with those he has had in the past with Jérôme Boateng, Yaya Touré and Micah Richards - but this one evidently has a greater edge to it given Mancini's unstinting support for the player in spite of grave doubts within the club.
The relationship between Mancini and Balotelli was cited as crucial in the player reversing his threat to take the club to a tribunal over a £340,000 fine for his on-pitch disciplinary record last season. Balotelli dropped the case, he said in a statement last month, “as a sign of respect for Roberto Mancini” - a respect that was lacking yesterday.
Balotelli, who it was reported last night has been having frequent chats with the City chaplain Peter Horlock, has long been Mancini's pet project at the club, indulged and forgiven more often than his team-mates care to remember. His last game was a dismal showing in the defeat at home to Manchester United on 9 December. Since then he has missed the last month through an unspecified illness over the Christmas period.
That the pictures have emerged has been a huge source of frustration for City who are due to move to their new Etihad Campus training ground near their stadium in east Manchester in 18 months' time where they will be guaranteed privacy. For the time being their training ground is open to a footpath that runs between their land and that used by neighbours Sale Sharks rugby club.
Although the club have put up “green screens” to stop photographers, they are restricted by Trafford borough council regulations as to how high they can go. Photographers use ladders to go above them and take pictures. In the days before City joined the elite there was much less interest in the squad and the public access to the training ground was less of a problem.
In terms of Balotelli's long-term future at the club, it is not simply the case that Mancini, if he was so minded, would be easily rid of the player. The striker has two years left on his contract after this season with few takers at his salary level. The City manager also said in an interview last month that Balotelli was a favourite of the owner Sheikh Mansour.
ROLL OF DISHONOUR BALOTELLI’S BUST-UPSBALOTELLI V JEROME BOATENG
3 December 2010
The Italian took exception to a tackle from Boateng at Manchester City's training ground, resulting in the pair exchanging blows.
BALOTELLI V VINCENT KOMPANY
30 April 2011
Balotelli reacted angrily to a strong challenge from the City captain during training.
BALOTELLI V MICAH RICHARDS
15 December 2011
A stray pass from Richards in a practice match led to Balotelli aiming a jibe at the defender - causing Richards to react furiously.
BALOTELLI V YAYA TOURE
11 March 2012
The pair had to be pulled apart during a heated half-time exchange as City went down 1-0 at Swansea.
BALOTELLI V ALEKSANDAR KOLAROV
31 March 2012
Nigel de Jong and Kompany pushed Balotelli away from Kolarov as he demanded to take a free-kick against Sunderland.
BALOTELLI V ROBERTO MANCINI
23 September 2012
Mancini pushed Balotelli in the back after the player reacted to being taken off late on in a draw with Arsenal.
MARK PERCIVAL – The Independent