Mario Balotelli was involved in a furious shoving match with Roberto Mancini at training today after the Manchester City manager ordered him off the field for a late lunge at winger Scott Sinclair.
City’s combustible Italian striker took a swipe at Sinclair towards the end of training at Carrington today and was immediately told to go in and get changed by Mancini, who is fast running out of patience with the 22-year-old.
However, Balotelli steadfastly refused to leave the field, prompting Mancini to shove him towards the touchline and attempt to physically drag him from the field.
Gary Neville: Pics of RM and MB not great but these things may happen from time to time. I just don’t get the lack of privacy. That does need sorting.
Louis Saha: No Mariooo. No Mariooo. Noooo #balotelli
Bedlam briefly reigned as Balotelli resisted and the two men were caught on film holding each other by their bibs and training tops in a very public show of strength.
Mancini’s coaching staff – including Brian Kidd and Massimo Battara – quickly dived in to defuse the situation and training – which was about to end – was called to a halt.
The incident was once again caught on film by the cameraman who are given easy and embarrassing access to City training sessions by the public footpath that borders one side of the site.
Balotelli was soon seen driving away from training in his easily identifiable camouflage Bentley but will in all likelihood be fined for what was a clear show of defiance towards the manager who has done so much to keep him at the club.
The Italian international was due to be recalled to Mancini’s team for this weekend’s FA Cup tie at home to Watford after missing training with a virus over Christmas. This, however, is now in some doubt.
One onlooker told Sky Sports News: ‘Mancini ran at him – he was furious,’ said the onlooker. ‘He grabbed hold of him and appeared to try and throw him on the floor.
‘It looked like Mario was too strong and he couldn’t get him down. Then all the coaches ran in to separate them but Mancini was having none of it. He kept trying to break free and have a go at him again.’
After the incident, Balotelli drove off in his camouflage Bentley GT. He has a history of irritating his manager, leading to much speculation he will be sold.
When Balotelli was sent off against Arsenal last season, his furious manager intimated that it was the end of the line for the striker.
After that game Mancini said: ‘I can continue to play with Mario on the pitch. Every time, we risk one sent off, like today.’
Then asked for how long he would put up with the striker’s antics, he said: ‘I am finished. We have six games and he will not play in the next six games (because of suspension).’
Other incidents which antagonised his manager include the time he was caught throwing darts at youth team players at the training ground and him staying up late before the Manchester derby – after letting off fireworks in his house.
The drama comes just after former team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic claimed Balotelli offered City the best chance of retaining their Barclays Premier League title.
He believes Mancini should continue to take the rough with the smooth and persist with the precociously talented striker.
‘If you ever spend any time with Mario then you love Mario,’ said the 31-year-old Swede, who has been no stranger to controversy himself during a 13-year career at the highest level.
‘Even though he is not always the easiest player for the coach to manage, speak to any of his old coaches like Jose (former Inter and current Real Madrid boss Mourinho) and they will tell you when you work with Mario you always have a smile on your face.’
Ibrahimovic, who has netted 18 goals in just 16 games for Paris Saint-Germain this season, believes that Balotelli can inspire City to claw back the seven-point lead Manchester United currently hold over them in the title race.
‘He is a special player and a special talent,’ added the former Milan, Barcelona and Juventus man. ‘When Mario plays like he can he will hurt any team in the world.
‘Manchester City are already a way behind Manchester United in the Premier League – but if any player can retain the title for them it is Mario. All the class that Manchester City have I would still say Mario is the most capable.’
Ibrahimovic – who scored a stunning long-range overhead kick against England in November – also revealed that he helped Mancini to nurture Balotelli when the trio were together at the San Siro.
‘I tried to help Mario because it is true he does sometimes make decisions in the moment – but that is his personality,’ he added.
‘Roberto will know the same as me that the way to get the best out of Mario is to love him. That is what he will react best to – and if they can get Mario playing at his best then Manchester City still have a big chance.’