CONTROVERSIAL Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli’s future at the club has been plunged into fresh doubt after he and manager Roberto Mancini were involved in a training ground scuffle yesterday.
Witnesses said Mancini reacted angrily to a tackle from Balotelli on team-mate Scott Sinclair and grappled with the Italy international before coaching staff pulled the warring pair apart.
It is the latest in a catalogue of storms to engulf the mercurial 22-year-old during his short career, and raises further questions about his long-term future at the Premier League champions.
Balotelli missed 11 matches through suspension last season, saw his house set alight after fireworks were let off in the bathroom, and threw a dart at a City youth team player in March 2011.
He only smoothed over relations at the club last month, after agreeing to pay a fine for his repeated indiscipline, having initially contested the sanction and taken City to the brink of a tribunal.
City did not comment on yesterday’s incident but onlookers reported that Mancini berated Balotelli for the late tackle, prompting the £24m star to gesticulate in the manager’s direction.
Extraordinary pictures show Mancini and Balotelli then squaring up in front of shocked colleagues, before assistant coach Brian Kidd and other staff appear to step in to defuse the row.
Balotelli has scored just two league goals this season and has not played since his underwhelming display in the derby defeat to Manchester United on 9 December, in part due to a virus.
An injury to joint top scorer Sergio Aguero had appeared to thrust Balotelli up the pecking order and into contention to start tomorrow’s FA Cup tie against Watford – until yesterday. Mancini looks certain to be quizzed on the flashpoint when he faces media today in advance of the third round match at the Etihad Stadium.
Balotelli’s persistent difficulties on and off the field have seen him linked with a return to his homeland and a move to AC Milan, although their president Silvio Berlusconi last month played down a bid.
Berlusconi said Milan teenager M’Baye Niang was “better than Balotelli” and has previously suggested the player would not meet the club’s standard of behaviour.
Balotelli made headlines shortly after signing for City in 2010 when he told police he was carrying £5,000 in cash “because I am rich” at the scene of an accident involving his Audi.
His first league goals for City were marred by a red card – three more have followed – while he also incurred a four-match ban for stamping on Tottenham’s Scott Parker 12 months ago. He also fought with team-mate Micah Richards during training in December 2011.
History: Why always me?
■ March 2010: A 19-year-old Balotelli apologises after being pictured in an AC Milan shirt during his career at fierce rivals Inter
■ August 2010: Crashes his Audi on the way to Man City training. Police find £5,000 in cash on him which he was carrying “because I am rich”
■ March 2011: Unpunished after throwing a dart at City youth player
■ October 2011: Firefighters called after fireworks set off in Balotelli’s bathroom on eve of Manchester derby. He scores the next day, before revealing a shirt with the words “Why always me”
■ December 2011: Training bust-up with team-mate Micah Richards
■ January 2012: Banned for four games after appearing to stamp on Scott Parker’s head
■ December 2012: Drops attempt to take City to tribunal and agrees to pay fine of two weeks’ wages