Mario being Mario has always been part of the Balotelli bundle. This time, though, Manchester City's untamed Italian might have taken his shenanigans a Mohawk too far.
Thursday greeted football fans around the world with news that Mario Balotelli had been in a "training ground bust-up" with Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini. A photography agency has released pictures it claims were taken Thursday morning—pictures that appear to show Balotelli and Mancini involved in a physical altercation (via BBC Sport; more pictures here).
Misbehavior is obviously nothing new with Balotelli. Even so, looking through the snapshots, it's nearly impossible to deny that this stands apart.
Something went terribly wrong during the Manchester City training session in question, whenever it occurred. If the incident was in fact a physical confrontation between Mancini and Balotelli—and if the pair had to be separated—then Manchester City have a few sticky issues to resolve.
First, City must act decisively. So far the club has declined to comment, but that must change quickly. The incident must be investigated fully, and discipline must be doled out where necessary.
If in fact Balotelli took physical action against his manager, that must be his final action with the club. Threatening to take his employers to a tribunal (via Daily Mail) was bad enough—and admittedly a bit funny—but laying hands on his manager would be something else entirely.
So often in his Manchester City career, Balotelli has been given the benefit of the doubt. The 22-year-old undeniably has immense talent, but if this incident turns into what we think it will, that talent can no longer serve as an excuse.
Besides, Balotelli has provided little value on the field this season. The Italian has scored three goals in 21 total appearances in all competitions. That total includes only one Premier League goal.
Mancini once said he didn't trust Balotelli and that no one can (via Daily Telegraph). This latest incident would seem to confirm that sentiment, but it also undermines Mancini's position with his team to an extent.
If Mancini knew he could never trust Balotelli, one must wonder why Mancini didn't sell Balotelli precisely to prevent an incident like this. That he didn't do so illustrates only one of Mancini's many missteps this season.
The two have always maintained a difficult relationship. Thursday's news will almost certainly serve as the breaking point, and Mancini might find his fate at Man City linked to the mercurial striker he nurtured for so long.
Already out of the Champions League, City trail rivals Manchester United by seven points in the Premier League. The title defense remains alive, if just precariously, but an incident of this magnitude will only serve as a distraction.
No matter how the details emerge, it is now difficult to imagine Mario Balotelli playing for Manchester City again. That said, Mancini might just find his seat a few degrees hotter as well.