Roberto Mancini has insisted that Mario Balotelli will not leave Manchester City during the current transfer window, but conceded that he is not yet worth a place in the team.
Balotelli was ill for three days following last Saturday's 2-0 win over Fulham at the Etihad Stadium, for which he was an unused substitute. Although back training the striker is not fit enough to be included for Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Stoke City.
Yet even when Balotelli has recovered he will have to fight to start under Mancini. "Mario should work well and try to get his place in the team because at the moment he doesn't play for many reasons," he said. "I hope he can help us to win some trophies because he has the quality. I think his performance is so-so. But he can improve because we have important and crucial games in Premier League and FA Cup and I hope Mario can help us win games."
Mancini's comments came on the day the Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli, spoke about Balotelli to the Gazetta dello Sport. "The hope remains the same," he said, "that Mario decides to finally invest in himself; that he says, 'OK, now I'll become the best in the world, I'll put away the character I've become and let only my football do the talking.'"
Milan's vice-president, Adriano Galliani, has suggested that if City lower their valuation of around £24m Balotelli could be signed. But Mancini dismissed this and any chance of him moving away on loan. "No it is not true, Mario stays here," he said. "We didn't have any requests about Mario or other players." Asked if he is part of Mancini's long-term plans, the manager said: "Yes. Mario has another three years on his contract."
The Italian is unsure whether City will add any players during the window. "I don't know but we don't have enough players. It is difficult [to bring any in]. We are 18 players now. We can't sell any players," he said.
While Preston North End, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Chelsea have all won the FA Cup and league Double, City have not. "Here it is difficult to win one trophy, to win a double is hard but we will try. It would be good if we can win the Double," Mancini said.
The Italian will field his strongest side at Stoke. "In Italy we used to do this. In England, the FA Cup is more important – a very important trophy," he said. "But I can understand [how] some teams think about staying in the Premier League and maybe prefer to rest some players. I will always play my strongest team. When you play Saturday it is OK. In this case we have three [games] in one week but we will always play with best team."
City have drawn their last three matches against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium, and not won any of the past six. "Stoke at home is a different team," Mancini said. "Very difficult for every team they meet but if we play football we can have a chance to win. It is not only for us. Every team that goes to the Britannia has a problem because Stoke at home is strong – play well, physical, set pieces. But the last two years we played well and had a lot of chances to win and were really unlucky.
"The pitch is smaller than the Etihad Stadium and probably they have a different approach to the game. There are sometimes some squads that play very strong at home and away are different. Stoke are like this."