Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City's Mancini is ready to bench Balotelli for Chelsea clash

Roberto Mancini declared is not sure he can rely on Mario Balotelli for a game as significant as tomorrow's Premier League tie at Stamford Bridge and admitted he is still mystified by the player on whom he has staked his reputation.

The striker issued a public apology yesterday for the challenge which has earned him a one-game European ban, but his Manchester City manager is beginning to question whether he can nurture him into the world-class player he believes he can be.

Balotelli's dismissal for thrusting his studs into the chest of Dynamo Kiev's Goran Popov — who left Eastlands with red and blue bruises on his legs and feet — may mark the beginning of the end for a player urged by his representatives to stick things out at City for a season in the hope that Manchester will grow on him.

The city has finally captured his imagination, but his career is heading nowhere. He would earn considerably less money at Milan, his favourite club, but would find the environment there more comfortable.

Nigel de Jong, whose tackle on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final Balotelli's resembled, spoke from experience yesterday of the new minefield which the Popov tackle creates for Balotelli.

“Mario is a talented boy but I've told him he's got to learn from his mistakes and he's disadvantaging his own team by doing these kinds of things,” said De Jong.

“He's still a great player for us to have and tomorrow is a new day. He's going to realise that he's got to change the way that he plays because he's always going to be a marked man. We know what he can do. Some of the things he shows at times are unbelievable.”

Mancini is preparing for a negative response to Balotelli from his own team-mates.

“Maybe, but this is normal,” he said. “I hope every day he will change his behaviour. I can't understand his bad behaviour sometimes. Sometimes I can, but other times I can't.”

The players who will be called on to talk some sense into him are his close friend Aleksandar Kolarov and Patrick Vieira, who has tried to take Balotelli under his wing since the striker followed him from Internazionale to City.

Balotelli and Kolarov, who speaks fluent Italian from his Lazio career, lunched together at Balotelli's favourite San Carlo restaurant in Manchester yesterday.

“We are there to help him and not to criticise him or blast him away,” said De Jong.

Belfast Telegraph

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