LARGER than life Mario Balotelli has borne the brunt of the blame for the collapse of Manchester City’s Premier League title challenge, but he is just one of the reasons for their dramatic slide, and not the biggest.
Losing influential midfielder Yaya Toure in January during the African Cup of Nations was a massive loss at an important time of the season, and his absence coincided with the start of their wobble.
The saga of rebel forward Carlos Tevez’s future, too, following his monumental row with manager Roberto Mancini and subsequent extended strike action, was like an open sore and has been a huge distraction.
Balotelli is of course another part of the puzzle. Jose Mourinho labelled him unmanageable and Mancini appears to be starting to find that to be true. The flamboyant star must now convince City he can mend his ways or be sold.
But the most significant factor in City’s tumble from the top of the table has been the waning influence of twinkle-toed midfielder David Silva.
Early in the season, when Mancini’s men were sweeping all before them, Silva made them far more effective and, more than that, pleasing on the eye – not an accusation levelled at them in previous campaigns.
He has not been the same player since the turn of the year, however, meaning City have become far more predictable and striker Sergio Aguero, so lethal before, has no longer looked a goal threat.
Mancini must take his share of the blame too. Perhaps he has rotated his squad too much, with Edin Dzeko and James Milner relegated to bit-part roles when they might have more to offer. Tevez was recalled but has since been barely used, which looks like poor management.
It all means Mancini faces the prospect of an uncomfortable few weeks while he waits for City’s Abu Dhabi-based hierarchy to judge whether he has merited another season in charge.
Crucial to their decision could be whether he can engineer an upturn in results and finish the season with some optimism restored. On that note, he certainly won’t want to lose the Manchester derby later this month.
The other question is: who would replace him? Mourinho is perhaps the only man you could be sure would improve results, but I suspect he’d reject City and hold out for the Manchester United job.
Which brings me onto the champions. Special credit should go to Sir Alex Ferguson for superb squad deployment, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick for quiet midfield efficiency and much-improved goalkeeper David de Gea for making the doubters – including me – eat humble pie.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played in both the 1986 and 1990 World Cups and the 1988 European Championships. He now works as a talent scout and media commentator.