Mario Balotelli has been warned he is in danger of wasting his prodigious talent unless he manages to shed his habit of embroiling himself in the kind of controversies that have routinely been attached to the Italian throughout his short and erratic career.
The latest occurred on Manchester City's pre-season trip to Los Angeles, when a furious Roberto Mancini substituted the player only 30 minutes into the friendly against LA Galaxy on Sunday to "teach him a lesson" and "show him that in football you always have to be professional".
Balotelli had run clean through on goal but, rather than trying an orthodox effort, he spun on the ball and attempted to score with a trick shot through the back of his legs. His effort went wide and, from the restart, City's opponents nearly scored.
Mancini's anger manifested itself in his decision to drag Balotelli off the pitch but the striker's team-mates were also incensed, with Nigel de Jong particularly animated as he demanded an explanation.
"I've played with some strange characters in the past but it's the first time I have seen that," De Jong said. "It is frustrating, and he has to iron out those issues otherwise it will be a waste of his talent. He has to realise that now. All his team-mates are here to help him but he's his own person and he is the only one who can change his ways."
De Jong's tone was not of a man wanting to criticise his younger team‑mate but of someone becoming increasingly exasperated about the frequency with which Balotelli finds himself in these situations. "I think everybody in the dressing room tries to have an influence on him, not only me. Everybody is trying but it is on him to change himself now. He has to realise it's up to him. We're his team‑mates and we're always trying to help but he has to make the right decisions and get the focus for himself.
"He must have been sitting on the bench afterwards thinking: 'Why did I do that?' But it's for him to learn. He has to realise that something like this will not be accepted, either by the team or the staff."
It also provoked an angry response from the home players. "You can say: 'It's only a friendly', but you don't want to see that out on the pitch," said Mike Magee, Galaxy's scorer in the 1-1 draw. "Maybe in the beer league or something, things like that go on – but not in a game like this when it's still early on.
"Their coach did the right thing because the crowd weren't happy with him [Balotelli]. We're a good enough team, even if we are a step below the Premier League. If we were losing 8-0 and he'd done that we might have had a whack at him."
The latest Balotelli controversy was an unsatisfactory way for City to end their trip – they are now preparing for a friendly against Internazionale in Dublin on Sunday – but there is still a sense within the club that this could be the season when he fully demonstrates why Mancini, knowing there would be behavioural issues, decided it would be worth all the hassles to sign him.
"We have had a good two and a half weeks of training, he has played a couple of good games, he's coming across strongly in training and he's progressing every day," De Jong said. "He's a very talented guy and he has all the right attributes to be a world-class player. Everyone is always talking about the negative things but, as a football player, he's one of the biggest talents. He just has to remove these kind of moments from his game."
De Jong has his own issues, having turned down a new contract offer, and the Dutchman spoke about his belief that the club's proposed new salary had not reflected his position in the side. "Everybody knows my status in the team – the board, the staff, the players, everyone. It's just a small thing in the back of my head, not a major point. I still have two years of my contract and I just have to focus on the team and be patient."
At least City are aware De Jong wants to stay, whereas Carlos Tevez's position is far more complicated. The Argentinian is due to return to Manchester on 4 August and De Jong said: "It's a difficult situation for all of us, difficult for the players, for Carlos himself and for the club.
"In the end, you have to respect his decision, whatever he does. I know Carlos quite well and if he wants to be closer to his family you can't blame him for that. He always gives everything, so for him to make that kind of statement [about wanting to leave] ... it's not something he will have taken lightly."