Hart: Mario has his head screwed on
Goalkeeper Joe Hart admits life can be frustrating with Mario Balotelli but is convinced the striker now has his head "screwed on".
Balotelli's remarkable propensity to create headlines on and off the pitch continued over the weekend after a domestic firework incident was followed by a devastating two-goal display in Sunday's 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United. The 21-year-old rarely seems far from controversy but, after six goals in five games, Hart is growing to love him.
Hart told City TV: "I think we were all a bit unsure last season, outside and inside, what he was about. I think he has grown as a person and accepted who and what he is in this team. He is someone we look to."
The England number one added: "All the hype that comes with Mario is standard procedure. That is the beauty of football, that is what he is. You get these characters and sometimes it is frustrating to be with him, but not so much this season. His head is really screwed on and we are all 100% behind him."
After clashing with manager Roberto Mancini during the pre-season tour of the United States, Balotelli appeared to become fourth-choice striker after reacting angrily to his substitution in the Community Shield in August.
But the former Inter Milan forward has since earned praise for his attitude in training and the ongoing controversy surrounding Carlos Tevez has offered a chance to play his way back into Mancini's affections.
"He is a great player and he is using his head for all the right things," said Hart. "He is doing all the right things and is working well with the team. I can't say enough positives about him. He is a team player, he scored his goals and I am delighted for him."
Balotelli was at his best as City hammered their nearest rivals to move five points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League in an emphatic statement of their title credentials. His first came against the run of play but after winning the foul which saw Jonny Evans sent off, he ensured there was no way back for the champions by adding a second.
Sergio Aguero hit the third and, after a Darren Fletcher consolation, City rubbed salt into United's wounds by condemning them to their heaviest derby defeat since 1926. Edin Dzeko struck twice in the closing moments either side of a David Silva strike as City finished the job in ruthless fashion.
"It was as good as it looked," Hart said. "The fans felt amazing, the lads felt amazing. There was a real feel-good vibe about it. It's magnificent football we've been playing all year. We have got top-quality players and we have proved that. United were bleeding when they had a man sent off and we went in for the kill."