by Kevin Henning

For the last few months, I’ve been trying in vein to defend Mad Mario Balotelli. Last week at the Etihad against Sunderland, I snapped. Time and time again, the Italian has single-handedly de-railed City’s charge towards the title. It seems such a long time ago that Mario came on at Anfield and City fans defended his red card claiming that the Liverpool players had targeted him knowing all about his dodgy temperament. The plain fact of the matter is that the dodgy temperament is his own problem. As soon as an opposing team sees the number 45 on City’s team sheet, they know they are playing against a player more likely to receive a red card than a man of the match magnum of champagne.
For every loveable story, there have been three lacklustre performances. For every goal he scores, a dozen times where Balotelli loses the ball, throws himself to the ground and swings his arms around incredulous at not being awarded a free-kick. The more chances he is given, the worse his attitude seems to be. The talking point of SKY’s Super Sunday double header should have been the scandalous decision to not only award United a penalty for a player being brushed with a forehand whilst in an offside position, but that it was compounded with a ludicrous red card that once again helped tip the title balance in their favour. Mario Balotelli gives the media an outlet though. There’s no need to focus on another poor showing from the officials at Old Trafford when within two hours, they have a guaranteed tinderbox to provide more talking points than Jamie Redknapp can shake a s***ty stick at (and what hurts most is that Mario himself gives justification to Redknapp’s character assassination).
Manchester City fans have tried to back Balotelli since day one. They have even embraced some of his dodgy moments by celebrating them in song. The allergy to grass and dart throwing were worrying but we told ourselves that this is what came with having a maverick footballer. He seemed to put all that behind him in last season’s derby day at Wembley and became a cult hero with his cheeky wink at Wobblegob. He became ‘our’ bad b*****d. The type of player City never had. A player that fans of other clubs despised because of his arrogance as well as his skills.
The first sign that he was going over the edge for any right minded football fan was the attempted ‘stamp’ on Scott Parker. At the time, I defended him by saying only Mario knew whether he tried to kick the Tottenham midfielder in the head. I still believe the ban dished out was harsh. Over the last few weeks though, I have seen a side to Balotelli that I had hoped wasn’t there. As City have toiled in the title race, Mad Mario has not been at the races. His non-performance at Stoke City began a run of three games where he has shown an unwillingness to stand up for the fight. It culminated in yesterday’s fiasco at Arsenal where Mario seemed to be on a one-man mission to eliminate himself from the game. Sandwiched in between was the debacle at Eastlands with the rowing over who took a second half free-kick with City trailing 1-3 – that was when a lot of City fans (well a lot of those sat close to me) lost patience with him. Yes there were his two goals in a spirited City fightback, but the petulance shown yet again told me that he placed himself above the team in his list of priorities.
Roberto Mancini has since all but admitted that Mario Balotelli’s time at Eastlands is at an end. I’ll be sorry to see my youngest lad’s favourite player leave under a cloud and I’ll ponder what might have been had the mad one fulfilled his undoubted potential with City. Ultimately though, I feel an ultra-professional striker in the Aguero mould will bring more to the party which recently has been resembling a circus. Mario Balotelli will undoubtedy be remembered at Manchester City as an entertaining chapter in the story of the club’s journey to reach the pinnacle. Roberto Mancini must move on to the next chapter to remain a key character in the plot.