It is never over until the fat lady sings and there are still six matches remaining – but Easter Sunday may well go down as the day time ran out for Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and his flawed talisman Mario Balotelli.
When City’s 1-nil defeat at Arsenal followed United’s 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers it left Mancini’s men eight points adrift. But it is the way that City have crumbled and the effect on the team of their crazy Italian striker, sent off for the fourth time in his short City career at the Emirates, that has damaged Mancini and put the manager’s job on the line.
Under the pressure of keeping pace with Sir Alex Ferguson’s team – a young side in transition yet still laced with the experience and know-how to close in on a record 20th League title – City have crashed and burned. And Balotelli’s self-destruction has been as spectacular as it has been predictable.
When City’s doomsday scenario unraveled at the Emirates, Balotelli’s red card crowned a a shocking personal display by the maverick Italian striker that left former Manchester United skipper Gary Neville to deliver the harsh reality that will haunt Mancini.
As Balotelli left the field Neville concluded: “He’s placed his faith in him Roberto Mancini but it’s a circus and every time I’ve been to a circus there’s always been some clowns. He lets you down time and time again.”
Balotelli – who should have been sent off early in the first half for a shocking challenge on Alex song – was finally red-carded in the dying minutes for a wreckless lunge on Bacary Sagna. The fact that Mancini has put so much faith in the former Inter Milan star, who Jose Mourinho famously said is ‘unmanageable’, has damaged Mancini and almost certainly cost City their hopes of winning the Premier League title.
After watching the Italian spend £240 million on assembling a team to challenge champions Manchester United, the mega rich Arab owners must be wondering how could things do so badly wrong for a team that were once eight points clear of the Red Devils.
United in contrast have been unbeatable in the League since Paul Scholes came out of retirement at the beginning of January, winning 34 out of a possible 36 points with the ginger genius pulling the strings.
When Patrick Vieira jealously claimed United’s decision to recall Scholes was a sign of “weakness” in the Old Trafford squad he could not have been more wrong. At the age of 37, Scholes is a master craftsman still at the top of his game who brings brilliance and an extra touch of class to his team. His modest personality and exquisite reliability is the exact opposite of the madman from Milan who has brought shame on his club and made himself a laughing stock with a series of antics that would destabilise any club.
Mancini it seems has finally seen the light and declared that Balotelli will not feature in City’s final six matches. But the damage has been done and whether or not Mancini will recover from this latest bruising setback only time will tell.