Who's to blame for brawl? Mad Mancini or Bonkers Balotelli?
The Sun claims pressures are building on Mancini and that's why he flipped over Balotelli challenge
IS IT Bonkers Balotelli or Mad Mancini? Friday's papers seem divided on who should bear the brunt of the blame for Thursday's training ground confrontation between Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini.
The Manchester City manager lost his cool with his errant young striker after Balotelli brought down Scott Sinclair with what Mancini considered an unnecessarily reckless tackle during a 10-a-side training match.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Balotelli subsequently ignored his manager's order to return to the dressing room, at which point Mancini "grabbed Balotelli and attempted to force him off the pitch".
The 22-year-old Italian striker, who in the past has had training ground clashes with Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng, took exception to Mancini's manhandling and pushed his manager away. Coaches Brian Kidd and Massimo Battara were quickly on the scene but not before photographs had been caught of the Sky Blues bust-up.
The Telegraph comes down on the side of Mancini, claiming that City's Abu Dhabi hierarchy "would be prepared to sell the player this month if a buyer can be found" in light of Balotelli's litany of transgressions. Last season the club's owners were prepared to overlook his erratic behaviour, which included breaking team curfews, but this season Balotelli's slump in form – he's scored just once in 13 league appearances – has weakened his position at City.
The Guardian largely agrees with the Telegraph, claiming that the fracas "raised yet more questions over the striker's long-term future" at Manchester City.
The paper also quotes a City insider as saying it was simply a "storm in a teacup" that "was forgotten about instantly", although that would appear to be contradicted by a subsequent sentence in the Guardian's report, describing Mancini as "still wagging his finger as he entered the office building" several minutes after the incident.
The Sun for its part wonders if the extraordinary scenes weren't evidence that the pressure is beginning to tell on Roberto Mancini. With City seven points adrift of Manchester United in the Premier League, and having failed to qualify from the pool stage of the Champions League, Mancini "is beset by problems on all sides". That, claims the Sun, is what caused him to "erupt" on Thursday.
The paper then quotes an eye-witness who described how Mancini flipped after a challenge by Balotelli on Sinclair that "was fairly innocuous". Mancini didn't see it that way, however, and "he came running over, pushed Mario away and gave him a real mouthful". The eye-witness added that Balotelli was "surprised at first" by his manager's reaction but when Mancini grabbed him "he started screaming".
Mancini was scheduled to hold his usual Friday morning press conference today and it seemed likely that few of the questions would concern City's FA Cup tie against Watford. Instead it would be all about Balotelli – and about Mancini himself.
In recent weeks Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have both been linked with Mancini's job for next season and he must be aware that a season without silverware would make his position vulnerable.
If Mancini does keep his job, however, at least next year he can look forward to an end to incidents such as yesterday's – regardless of whether Balotelli remains at the Etihad.
A public footpath skirts City's Carrington training centre and the local council has refused permission for the club to erect high fences to keep out prying locals. So, in 2014, the club will move to a new training ground where Mancini – or his successor – will be able to go potty in private.