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Is it time City stopped making excuses for Balotelli?

Mario walks off - is it time City gave him his marching orders?

"There are too many other issues for City’s coaching staff to sort out after an indifferent start to the season to get sidetracked with one player."

Manchester City kept their first clean sheet of the season but the headlines were once again dominated by the turbulent talent of Mario Balotelli - should the club cut its losses on the Italian maverick

In the soap opera that is the Premier League, if Mario Balotelli didn't already exist you would have to invent him.

After all, every good TV series needs a comic character, and Mario, bless him, fits the bill a treat. Just when we were all getting obsessed with the deadly serious storyline about Anton Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole, along comes Mario for some light relief.

Substituted 25 minutes from the end of a straightforward 3-0 home win over Sunderland, he stormed past manager Roberto Mancini, down the tunnel, away from the ground - and within hours was being pictured at Manchester Airport waiting to board a Ryanair flight to Italy.

The problem is that while for most football followers Balotelli serves up some laughter, for Manchester City it's deadly serious. And for manager Mancini, he can't even continue using the example of the budget airline on how to deal with excess baggage. Excessive fines haven't worked, and the time is coming when he has to give up and leave the 22-year-old behind completely as being not wanted on City's voyage.

The blue half of Manchester learned last year what happens when a maverick player is indulged. The Carlos Tevez saga sapped valuable time and energy from the club throughout the season, and it was only after the Argentinian was brought back in line for the final six matches that City found the six straight wins which could win them the title. There are those who say that Balotelli's reckless red card in the defeat at Arsenal might have cost City the title - ironically it might actually have won it for them because the suspension that followed was what got Tevez back in the team.

This year Tevez has knuckled down and accepted that the club comes first. He was also subbed without scoring on Saturday - admittedly much later than Balotelli - but there were no histrionics. It's a lesson Mario must heed if he is ever to do more than make us wonder what might have been.

City were giving out vibes yesterday that their manager is in no hurry to make a decision about the player's future, and that he's under no pressure from the boardroom to do something either. The Etihad top brass backed their boss last season to make football decisions, and they will do the same again.

But it's an issue the manager can't afford to ignore any longer. Balotelli is a huge talent, there's no doubt. He got 18 goals in the 31 occasions he pulled on a first team shirt last season, and his cameo in the last 14 minutes on the final day of the season against QPR turned the tide to set up the injury time heroics.

There comes a point when, in a dressing room full of talent, you can make excuses for one maverick no longer. There are too many other issues for City's coaching staff to sort out after an indifferent start to the season to get sidetracked with one player. City are still most people's pick to keep their title - they are 2.89/5 favourites to be Premier League winners.

But until Mancini removes mad Mario from his dressing room that will be a bet to steer well clear of.

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08 October 2012

Premier League

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