As Daniel Taylor at The Guardian has reported today, Manchester City have internally come to the decision that Mario Balotelli’s tenure at the club is over, even as Mancini continually denies this publicly. The intention, by denying that he is for sale, is to recoup as significant a proportion of the sum City paid for the Italian as possible, given the reticence of most clubs to sign a player who has flattered to deceive, at best, during his time in Manchester. City hope to get as much back as possible of the £24 million they spent on the striker.
However, where the belief is that Balotelli has disappointed at City, I remain convinced that the club has repeatedly failed him, putting him in a series of impossible positions from which it has been incredible difficult to progress and maintain a role in the first team.
Balotelli is a striker, and, at that, the main one. Not only is he physically built for that role, with the power and strength required to operate alone in a forward position, but his game is built around that. He is best with the goal at his wake, not trying to build goals for others. Yet time and again, Mancini has chosen to field Balotelli off another striker, or most oddly, in a role on the wings. It is baffling, and the sort of decision making that happens time and again in football, especially in this country, where managers and coaches refuse to trust youngsters with a central striking role. It is disappointing that Mancini does not inherently understand the difference between the two roles and the ability required, despite the fact that he himself played up front.
Whenever he has been given an extended opportunity there, Balotelli has impressed. People were quick to forget his run in the first team last year when Tevez disappeared and Dzeko was woeful, when Balotelli kept City in the title race over a difficult winter. Similarly, his performances for Italy in the summer are often pointed to as an example of his disappointing form at City – how can they be compared when, this season, he has rarely been the ‘main man’.
Even when he has been given a chance up top, it has come almost begrudgingly from Mancini. This is another issue with the idea that Mancini supports Balotelli above all others and gives him chance after chance. Psychologically it cannot be good for Balotelli that it always comes unwillingly. There is always a feeling that he has only been put on the pitch to make a mistake, and when that mistake comes, he is taken off immediately. Think of the derby at the Etihad earlier this season, he started, but there was a palpable sense that he was there to ruin his career, so Mancini could wash his hands of him. The supposed support provided to him has never come.
Balotelli plays with the youthful exuberance that the best players in the world do, but there is no hiding away like Barcelona do with Messi. I am not claiming they are of the same standard, but Manchester City have not done much to protect him over the years. He is eternally in the public eye. All of this points to how, as much as Balotelli has made errors in his time at City, City have made errors with ‘Super Mario’. The feeling I have is that he will be sold and go on to craft a really good career elsewhere, probably in his native Italy. He may come to be seen, ten years from now, as a lost asset to the Premier League.
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