Belfast Telegraph

Ian Herbert: Balotelli is Manchester City manager's blind spot

By Ian Herbert

Roberto Mancini knows all about players who would spill blood for a Manchester City manager. He saw it in those players he inherited in 2009, struggling to transfer their loyalties from Mark Hughes to him. He still views that time as perhaps his toughest at City.

He has never been too bothered about feeling the love himself, though. On the Italian television show Le Iene, where guests are asked to describe themselves with one word, Mancini chose "genius" and there was no irony attached. It is his belief that he has a peripheral football vision others lack, which explains why his regime can be so unflinching and unfeeling at times. There's the training hill he has had built at Carrington – much like the one Rafael Benitez introduced at Melwood, from which Kenny Dalglish now views training sessions. There are the training times he will have sent to players at 11pm the night before games, keeping them on their toes; the humiliating early substitutions; the negative comments in public.

The problem with genius, of course, is that it can often lack a common touch. It required a human instinct on Saturday, for instance, to know how James Milner would feel to get a touchline dressing down over Sunderland's first two goals in a 3-3 draw. The same instinct, had Mancini possessed one, would have told him that the sight of Mario Balotelli swanning around the pitch, just as he had been swanning around Italy all week, made Milner's sense of injustice worse. The way Balotelli is indulged is beginning to have a deeply corrosive effect in City's dressing room, though Mancini is immune, not bothered or both, because he considers the striker to be a fellow member of the genius club.

Such is Mancini's blind spot – the 10 to 15 per cent of his own management game which is missing – and it means that as he heads towards the moment of reckoning with his club's Abu Dhabi owners, he does not have a lot of people at his club whom he can call friends or allies. It's been rocky at times over the past year with Garry Cook, the chief executive, now departed, and Brian Marwood effectively director of football, and the only individuals whom he seems to have time for are his fellow Italians. "I trust only my personal doctor," he said on Saturday when the subject of Sergio Aguero's treatment by City staff cropped up. Imagine how the rest of the medical staff felt.

Chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak's desire that City build itself around a philosophy of shaping good individuals, as well as good players, must create some deep unease about Balotelli's conduct and Mancini's indulgence of it. Yet, as the winner and survivor he is, Mancini realised from the start that his relationship with Mubarak, if none other, must be nurtured – something that was always lost on Hughes. Mancini's assistant, David Platt, will often attend to the detail of strategy meetings with the City board, while the Italian himself takes care of the all-important phone calls to Mubarak, who likes a debrief after games.

City need some stability to take their last step to a domestic title – not more upheaval. It is why it would be folly to part company with Mancini now. But before another summer of reshaping takes place, perhaps Mubarak will manage to get Mancini out on one of those senior management away-days that Hughes always threw himself into with such gusto. That will provide the opportunity to put the manager straight in some of the basic tenets of team leadership.

Belfast Telegraph

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