Balotelli on borrowed time as City’s title bid fades

Mario Balotelli’s Manchester City future was in the balance after manager Roberto Mancini admitted his patience with the striker was wearing thin.

Balotelli was sent off for the third time this season in the 89th minute of City’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday that left them eight points behind leaders Manchester United with six games left and hopes of a first English title in 44 years all but extinguished.

The Italy forward was fortunate to avoid being dismissed for a 20th minute challenge on Alex Song that went apparently unseen by referee Martin Atkinson but could be subject to further review by the Football Association, raising the possibility of Balotelli being suspended for City’s remaining fixtures.

Mancini, who refused to concede the title to United, has repeatedly backed Balotelli, despite the player attracting controversy on and off the pitch.

But after Sunday’s match he insisted his compatriot must change his ways while admitting Balotelli, who was red-carded for a foul on Bacary Sagna, could be sold come the end of this season.

“We have six games and he will not play in the next six games,” Mancini said of Balotelli, although a City official said that was because he expected the FA to take severe disciplinary action against the 21-year-old, who is facing a minimum three-game ban.

“But I love him as a guy, I love him as a player, because I know him. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a fantastic player … But, at this moment, I’m very sorry because he continues to lose his talent, his quality … I hope, for him, that he can understand that he’s in a bad way for his future, and he can change his behaviour in the future.”

Asked if Balotelli would be sold, Mancini added: “Probably — but I don’t know. It depends, because Balotelli is a fantastic player … Every time we risk one sent off, like today [Sunday]. But he can score also in the last minute … It’s clear he’s created big problems, but he’s scored important goals. He’s made mistakes, he’s young, he doesn’t understand it here [England] … He needs to change his behaviour if he wants to improve his life. I’ve seen players finish in two or three years with huge talent. He needs to change.”

Right man for the job
Mancini’s own position will now be examined, but the manager insisted he should be given more time by City’s wealthy United Arab Emirates based-owner Sheikh Mansour.

“Sure, 100%,” he said when asked if he was the right man for the job.

“When I arrived, City were seventh or eighth. After six months, we were fighting for the Champions League and lost to Tottenham one game from the end … Second year, we were second and won the FA Cup. Today [Sunday], we have 15 points more than last year … When you start a project it’s important you improve. You work hard. This is a difficult situation because we thought we could win the title. We were there for 28 games. But we need to improve. We need more experience and to change something. We’ve only worked here for two years.”

Mikel Arteta’s 87th minute goal moved Arsenal two points clear of north London rivals Tottenham in the race for third place and qualification for the Champions League proper.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger warned there could be no drop in standards when his team faced relegation-threatened Wolves on Wednesday.

“We know it will be a different game. Today was a game with a lot of hype and focus. They were going for the championship, we were going for a Champions League place … Now we’ll be fighting with a team trying not to go down, and they’ll be fighting to survive.”

The Frenchman added: “We have taken 24 points from 27 and the points we’ve got, many of them, have been deserved. We have improved as a team, 100 percent, for sure.

“Unfortunately, we started from too deep [to win the title] … We had a blip in January that cost us severely. We are 10 points from City today so, even starting where we started, if we’d not lost our games in January, we’d be there.” — AFP

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