City manager is under pressure from senior players and the club’s Abu Dhabi owners over the friction caused by the controversial Italian striker
Player power has prompted Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini to warn Mario Balotelli that he must mend his ways or face being booted out of the Etihad.
Balotelli is once again available for selection for tomorrow night’s make-or-break Manchester derby with United after serving a three-match ban for his red card in the defeat at Arsenal.
And Sunday Mirror Sport understands that Balotelli has been left in no doubt by both his teammates and his manager that this is his last chance to save his City career.
Several senior City players have told Mancini that the Italian’s behaviour is causing friction in the dressing room. They feel that the Blues’ boss has indulged Balotelli to the point where it is damaging both the player and the team.
Mancini is also coming under pressure from City’s Abu Dhabi owners to get the 21-year-old to clean up his act.
He has now given Balotelli an ultimatum – and so far it seems to be working. Mancini said: “Maybe I am the only man in football who trusts Mario. But in this game I think, yes, you can trust him.
“Mario as usual is training well.
“In one game he can score two or three goals – this is the manager’s problem. Mario has apologised to me for the red card at Arsenal, yes. He has been training well.”
Mancini’s belief that the young Italian has learned some vital lessons is confirmed by another City insider who said: “There has been a noticeable change in Balotelli since his sending off at Arsenal.
“He has settled right down and seems to be focused on his job, which hasn’t always been the case since he came to the club.
“A number of players have made their feelings clear to both Balotelli and Roberto Mancini that they felt one player was being given too much freedom.
“It was beginning to cause problems in the dressing room and was also damaging Mancini because to some extent he has staked his reputation on Balotelli.” The striker began his penance by issuing an apology for his second red card of the season.
During his ban, he has watched Carlos Tevez strike up a devastating partnership with Sergio Aguero.
Balotelli has scored 17 goals this season, but some team-mates felt he wasn’t doing enough on the pitch to justify the special treatment being lavished on him.
The insider added: “All top players are given some concessions. That doesn’t cause any problems as long as they are delivering on the pitch. The feeling was that Balotelli was not doing enough to be considered a special case.”
Controversy has followed the former Inter Milan forward throughout his career. But the negative headlines have gone into overdrive since Mancini persuaded City to pay £24million 18 months ago for a player described as ‘unmanageable’ by Jose Mourinho.
That has not gone down well in image-conscious Abu Dhabi. And some of City’s fans are beginning to give up on a maverick who is something of a cult hero because of his ability to go from the sublime to the ridiculous on and off the pitch.
Mancini will once again trust in the Tevez-Aguero axis for tomorrow night’s crunch derby. But Balotelli terrorised United in City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford in October, scoring twice and will be ready to emerge from the substitutes’ bench if he is needed to make an impact.