James Milner, in many ways a polar opposite of the player he was about to replace, readied himself on the sideline, preparing to enter for his rebellious colleague. Guilty of nothing more than audacity, Balotelli jogged fitfully off the pitch, steeling himself for the wrath he was about to face. Turns out, Fergie's not the only one in Manchester with a health supply of hairdryers.
Up to this point in the narrative, Balotelli had done very little wrong. Yes, it was foolish to attempt such a trick in a dangerous attacking position, but the game was an exhibition, a platform to exhibit skill and artistry, not to mindlessly conform to a norm set by the draconian teachings of a manager who has lost the flair which made him so notable as a player.
But then, the ugly side of Balotelli reared it's head, the side that led to his fall out with Mourinho and the side that continues to create havoc in the Manchester City dressing room. A controversial figure, Balotelli needed a low key pre season, but his reaction upon leaving the field insured that he will enter the new campaign amidst a swell of discussion.
A point, a shrug of the shoulders, and a dismissive gesture towards Mancini- Balotelli's actions weren't just disrespectful, they were downright stupid. City knew when they signed the man called "Super Mario" that his relationship with authority had never been healthy, but they couldn't possibly have guessed at the way his arrogant demeanour would undermine what is unquestionably a prodigious talent.
Next season could have been the one for Balotelli. With Tevez all but gone, the stage is clear for someone within the City's ranks to step up and make an impact. Dzeko, though a hit in Germany, is said to be too slow for the league. The incoming Sergio Aguero will take time to adjust, and Emmanuel Adebayor's bridges have not been so much burned, as absorbed into a fiery inferno, before thrust into the darkest ocean.
Now was Balotelli's time, the Premier League his platform, City his team and most importantly, Mancini his manager. Whatever his faults, Mancini commands respect, and must command respect, lest he risk losing a dressing room which is a veritable minefield of egos. Mancini's job is arguably the most difficult in club football, and he is right to be angry at the disrespect of Balotelli. Had Mario at least pretended to repent, all surely would have been forgotten, the incident swept under the rug not to be talked about again.
But apology and remorse isn't part of the Balotelli psyche, after all, throughout his career he has been the victim of a lack of repentance; from the parents who abandoned him as a child, only to come back when informed of his talent, to the supporters who waved bananas in his face at the San Siro. Forever in search of an apology, how can Balotelli be expected to give them out?
However, he must learn. He must learn to control his turmoil and anger, or at least channel them into a more productive enterprise. He must learn to bow to the power of men like Mancini, even if he knows inside that "Super Mario" is in the right. And most importantly of all, he must learn how to do a proper back heel.
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