As Manchester City prepare an internal investigation to look into the latest incident in Mario Balotelli’s controversial career, Goal.com can reveal that it was actually manager Roberto Mancini who sparked the ugly confrontation at the club’s training ground on Thursday.
Balotelli and the City boss were photographed squaring off during training at Carrington after clashing during a practice match in which Mancini was taking part.
Witnesses have told Goal.com that it was Mancini, rather than Balotelli, who lost control as tensions grew between the pair throughout the session.
First Balotelli, 22, trained alone before being called into the training match.
After months of questions regarding Balotelli’s future at the club, the tension between the pair was evident in Mancini’s vocally strict approach towards the Italy international.
The former Inter boss frequently singled out his compatriot for criticism during the session as the pair neared boiling point, leaving City players shocked given Balotelli had only returned to training from a virus earlier this week.
Then, after Balotelli petulantly clipped Scott Sinclair having lost the ball to the winger, Mancini erupted in the striker’s direction, attempting to dismiss him from the session and shouting in both Italian and English before grabbing the Italy international’s bib.
With his shocked team-mates looking on, Balotelli attempted to restrain his manager, staying on the pitch before the grappling pair were pulled apart by assistant manager Brian Kidd and goalkeeping coach Massimo Battara.
The embarrassing incident was caught on camera by photographers who have easy access to training sessions thanks to a public footpath that borders the complex.
Balotelli left the pitch visibly upset but, contrary to reports elsewhere, he stopped to sign autographs for fans as he left Carrington in his camouflaged Bentley.
“The players couldn’t quite believe what had gone on. Mancini completely lost it in front of everyone and Balotelli looked as confused as the rest of his team-mates,” a source close to the club told Goal.com.
The incident will yet again raise questions over Mancini’s management of the forward, who he claimed to “love” during an interview last week having demanded that Balotelli improved his attitude in training.
“The relationship between me and him is always good, even if one day he does something,” Mancini told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I love him because for many years we live together. I’ve seen him grow. But the professional relationship is another thing and I’ve told Mario what I need from him.
“The time of cheap talk is over. Balotelli is 22 years old and now it’s time to be professional. I ask from him seriousness and commitment in training, a more stable private life and correct behaviour on the pitch.”
The fracas came after Goal.com exclusively revealed last week that Balotelli is set to be subject of a bid from AC Milan, with Pato having joined Corinthians on Thursday and fellow Brazilian Robinho said to be nearing an exit from San Siro this January.
Balotelli has struggled to settle in Manchester since his €29.5 million move from Inter in 2010 and has been involved in a string of on and off-field incidents that appear to have had an impact on his form as he has scored just one Premier League goal this campaign.
With relations between Balotelli and Mancini now so publicly strained, another fine for ill-discipline appears likely after he accepted a two-week fine last month for missing 12 matches last season because of suspensions.
The fault in this latest incident may, for once, not lie with Balotelli. But his City career is certainly now drawing to a close.
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