Balotelli is becoming more famous for fights than football but the pictures don't look clever for Manchester City's manager either
In pictures: Mario Balotelli's time at Manchester City
There are many, inevitably, who will wonder how the most financially endowed club on the planet can possibly get themselves in a position where every practice session is open to anyone with the gumption to find the pathway that runs alongside Manchester City's training ground.
Gary Neville made that very point after surveying the latest set of photographs to embarrass the Premier League champions. "I just don't get the lack of privacy," he observed. "They have to come up with a solution." Neville's old club, Manchester United, have their training ground a couple of fields away in the same village but Sir Alex Ferguson made sure during the design process that it should be impenetrable for any lurking cameramen. "Keep those fuckers from the media out," were the precise words. When the snappers realised there was a lone tree that could offer a vantage point, United had it cut down. No one gets pictures from that side of Carrington these days.
At City, they tried for a while to persuade the local council to help but it is not easy when it is a public right of way. When that got them nowhere, they put up several large white screens – but not, evidently, large enough. The photographers set up stepladders and, for their perseverance, have been rewarded more times over the past couple of years than City will want to remember. Mario Balotelli versus Jérôme Boateng, Emmanuel Adebayor versus Kolo Touré, then more of Balotelli, whether it be fronting up to Vincent Kompany, going nose to nose with Aleksandar Kolarov or rolling about on the floor with Micah Richards. And so on.
As for Balotelli versus Roberto Mancini, perhaps the most damning thing is that their own disagreements on the training ground have become such a frequent occurrence the photographers have found it difficult at times to shift the pictures. Finding a buyer is not an easy thing when it is the same story every time. More often than not, Fleet Street has just rolled its eyes with the sense of "oh, those two again".
The latest pictures, however, are the most damaging yet and the most embarrassing, too, now it has crossed the boundary from angry, heat-of-the-moment words into something physical. Mancini, in particular, appears to have lost the plot. The focus will be on Balotelli, the serial offender who had stayed too young too long and now appears to have brought his manager beyond the point of exasperation. Yet the pictures don't look too clever from Mancini's perspective. If anything, he is the main aggressor, grey with anger, taking a fistful of the player's bib. Balotelli is shepherded away in the end, either to prevent him from doing something stupid or, indeed, to stop Mancini doing likewise.
Every time this happens the response from City is the same: these things can happen on a training pitch. To a degree, it is true, too. We know, for example, about the time Ruud van Nistelrooy went for Cristiano Ronaldo on the United training ground. More recently, Nani lost his temper with a young reserve, Davide Petrucci – we just don't have the pictures. It is only City where this happens.
All the same, the training-ground walk of shame is threatening to become Balotelli's speciality more than the rasping shot, driving run or killer pass, and his employers could be forgiven if they are weary, to say the least, about the frequency with which he finds himself rubbing up against the world like sandpaper.
Perhaps it wouldn't matter so much if he were actually producing grown-up football rather than constantly bringing into disrepute Mancini's claim that he can be as prodigious on the football pitch as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But Balotelli plainly is not. He has scored one league goal all season, one in the Champions League and one in the Capital One Cup. Mancini has restricted him to the role of fourth-choice striker and spoken openly about not daring to include him in the big matches because of his capacity for losing his head. When Balotelli was risked, ahead of Carlos Tevez, in the Manchester derby his performance drew stinging condemnation from the manager. It is guesswork to a degree, but what happened in the drizzle at Carrington felt like it had wider origins beyond the flashpoint that brought it all to a head.
What we know for certain is that it started with a kick from Balotelli, aimed in the direction of Scott Sinclair. Mancini, who had been making up the numbers in a practice match, ordered Balotelli to go inside. Balotelli refused and this is the point when Mancini lost his temper properly, grabbed him and started trying to drag and push him off the pitch.
The background, however, is that tension has been building between manager and player for a long time now. It is there in every match Balotelli starts, with Mancini angrily gesturing his disgust and Balotelli seething with indignation, eyeballing him back before the inevitable substitution and grumpy straight-down-the-tunnel response. It is evident in every press conference when Mancini expresses that mix of frustration and anger and bewilderment and, more and more, foregoes any attempt to protect his player. Balotelli, he said recently, had all the talent but just could not be bothered to make the most of it. He was "throwing it all out of the window".
That alone is some statement even before we get to Balotelli's disciplinary record and his defiance and lack of self-awareness when City fined him two weeks' wages, £340,000, for missing so many games through suspension last season, disciplinary action that so aggrieved the striker he was on the brink of taking the club to a Premier League tribunal last month before backing down at the last minute.
The lesson of history, however, is that we should probably not rush into knee-jerk reactions about what this latest episode means for Balotelli's future. There will be a lot of discussion about it over the coming days but Mancini has shown several times before that he does not want to wash his hands of him, however many times he feels let down, angry and out of control. On Tuesday, speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, he said the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, felt the same way and thought the good outweighed the bad. It feels, at times, like it has become a personal ambition of Mancini's that Balotelli simply cannot fail.
Others at City have tired of the sideshow and will admit the experiment has not worked out – Mancini has often been a lone voice among the coaching staff – and that it is probably a good time to sever ties, particularly now John Guidetti is coming to the end of his injury problems. Guidetti, a 20-year-old Swede, scored 20 goals and set up eight more during 23 games on loan at Feyenoord last season. Ronald Koeman, the Dutch club's manager and someone who knows a thing or two about good footballers, was impressed enough to predict Guidetti could be as good one day as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player he managed at Ajax.
Back in Manchester, Mancini has a press conference on Friday when the majority of questions will be about Mario, as they so often are. There is, however, a flicker of good news on the horizon for City and – if he's still here – the player in question. The team move into a new training complex close to the City of Manchester stadium in two years. Photographers not welcome.