Watching Manchester City this season has been a frustrating experience. The machine-like precision and rampant energy that last season’s side possessed seems lacking this term. The team, quite frankly, does not look like they are all on the same page. I believe the presence of three individuals in the Manchester City team has made the squad spirit unfocused, and one of them, Mario Balotelli, could well have written himself a ticket out of Manchester with his display this past Sunday.
The Manchester Derby was a lively, incident-laden contest, with victors United snapping City’s two year unbeaten run at their home field. Though still only in the middle of the season, the loss was a significant one, dropping City six points behind the front runners United, and allowed United a small measure of revenge for the drubbing they received at Old Trafford last season at the hands of Manchester City. The match, for me, underscored one of the issues that seems to plaguing the City squad this season, and that is the strength of their team spirit.
Balotelli, of course, is no stranger to controversy. In fact, he often seems like a child, constantly trying to attract attention to himself through this or that action.
Whether it’s driving a Mercedes into a woman’s prison in Brescia, or setting his house’s bathroom on fire after letting off fireworks inside, or throwing darts at a youth team player, or one of his many silly red cards, there always seems to be something attracting unnecessary attention to the volatile Italian. And while his display Sunday was largely incident free (as well as decidedly mediocre) in the first half, his unfocused performance early in the second half, where he gave the ball away foolishly twice in quick succession, prompted manager Roberto Mancini to substitute Balotelli after a mere seven minutes on the field in half two.
I think Manchester City have too many “problem” personalities in the dressing room. While most teams have a contentious player or two as part of their makeup, the three problem children at City (Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri) are all of the type that can splinter a dressing room.
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Tevez, who came back from his self-imposed exile last season to play a key role in City’s final push for the title, is a volatile type, but his boundless enthusiasm and effort (as well as ability) on the pitch make it a bit easier to forgive and forget. The difference in City after Tevez came on for Balotelli in the 52nd minute was obvious to anyone. Nasri doesn’t really incite at quite the same level as Tevez and Balotelli, but hiding behind teammate Edin Dzeko in the “wall” at the decisive free kick by Robin Van Persie (which went off Nasri’s outstretched boot and into the corner of the net for the winning goal) was pathetic and hardly personified “taking one for the team”.
So, while there are perhaps three individuals who could derail (in one fashion or another) Mancini’s ability to try focus his troops, one has to say that of the three, it is Mario that consistently either creates avoidable problems or just comes up flat on the field.
I don’t think, for Mancini’s sake, he can afford to keep Mario Balotelli in his team any longer. I’ve often wondered what motivates some managers to try and shape tarnished individuals into model professionals, to try and ride the storm to some triumphant and heroic conclusion. And one has to question Mancini if he continues to attempt to try and steer Balotelli in a “better” direction.
His teammates undoubtedly find him a frustrating player to work with, as you never quite know what Mario is going to give you, either sublime for all the right reasons, or ridiculous for all of the wrong ones. He’s had a couple of seasons to grow up and it does not seem to be happening. With three in the squad that can give you headaches, I think it’s just a bit too much of a juggle to try and make that work.
Mancini needs to simplify the issues in the squad, and getting rid of Mario Balotelli would eliminate a healthy percentage of Mancini’s problems. AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain are both very interested, and Mancini would be well advised to sell while his asset still has a premium value. His job may ultimately depend upon it.