Roberto Mancini’s loyalty to his controversial striker Mario Balotelli, already tested by a series of high profile incidents, will once again have to survive intense public scrutiny after a heated training ground spat was caught on camera. The difference this time is that Manchester City’s attacking options are limited and the January transfer window offers the opportunity to make immediate changes.

But surely this time around  Balotelli has been cleared of all blame by the paparazzi photographs that do not look good for his manager. That is why Mancini will surely kiss and make up once again with the player he has consistently said could become one of the best in the world.

With Sergio Agüero sidelined by a hamstring injury that has ruled him out of this weekend’s FA Cup tie against  Watford game and doubtful for City’s Premier League meeting with Arsenal on 13 January, Balotelli was looking for a return to the starting line-up. That could still happen, whatever the popular media may suggest, because Mancini is a class act. Once the red-mist subsides it would be a huge mistake for him to punish his 22-year-old protege for being too agressive in training, especially with Balotelli’s defence already in the public domain.

A witness told the Manchester Evening News: “Mancini ran at him — he was furious. 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.”

The incident was photographed by snappers camped outside City’s Carrington training ground where the pitches are visible from a public road and the sequence of pictures clearly show Mancini striding towards Balotelli and pointing in an aggressive manner. The manager looked out of control as he grabbed hold of Balotelli’s orange bib before the young striker was dragged away by a member of City’s coaching staff.

The incident was apparently triggered by a Balotelli challenge on Scott Sinclair that proved too severe for the manager’s liking.

It will be fascinating to see how Mancini responds in the morning to his latest fall-out with Balotelli when he faces the media in the cold light of day at his Friday press conference.

Balotelli has been involved in a succession of controversies since his £24m move from Inter Milan in August 2010. Only last month Mancini said  he was willing to give him another chance after he dropped his move to take the club to a tribunal over a two-week fine for missing 12 games last season because of suspensions. He told Gazzetta dello Sport: “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 glare of the media spotlight, magnified by embarrassing photographs, make it difficult for the defending champions and their manager. But this time Balotelli is not the one who should be doing the apologising. On the evidence of what we have seen Mancini was the aggressor. How he deals with this storm in a tea cup will tell us more about the manager than a striker who can’t keep out of the headlines.

Meanwhile, City’s rivals United sit seven points clear at the top of the Premier League wondering how this latest Eastlands soap opera will affect their noisy neighbours.

– BY JOHN GUBBA

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