What Manchester City and their manager Roberto Mancini hope for is a Tevez-style redemption – but it is an unlikely scenario
Mario Balotelli has become the problem Roberto Mancini now accepts he cannot solve and the player Manchester City wish they could offload. The club's title defence yearns for a Radamel Falcao or a David Villa to fill the striker void left by Balotelli's waywardness; however, they have £24m tied up in him with the chance of a decent return on this investment unlikely in the current transfer window.
To strengthen the team in the department Robin van Persie's proposed signing last summer was supposed to, a forward – Balotelli – must first be sold. Any suitor, though, with the requisite financial clout sees Balotelli's failure to build on a successful summer at Euro 2012 with Italy, the return of one league goal this season, plus a continuing catalogue of misdemeanours, and balks at taking what would amount to an expensive punt.
Officially, the line remains that City retain faith in Balotelli, and Mancini continues to publicly back him. But he and the club can do little else as they attempt to prevent his market value plummeting. The issue is their asking price and Balotelli's £170,000-a-week wage on a contract which runs until 2015: at the moment, finding a buyer willing to meet these terms appears difficult. Balotelli's salary makes even a loan deal for the remainder of the season – an ideal scenario for all parties – tricky, unless City agree to pay a large slice of it, which they may yet be tempted into to remove the unwanted distractions he causes.
Balotelli's serial on-field ill discipline led the club to fine him two weeks' wages last season after he missed 11 games due to suspension. Any hopes that this might signal to the Italian the club's serious disquiet with him misfired. Instead, a furious Balotelli challenged their authority and took City to the brink of a Premier League tribunal. When common sense finally intervened – on 19 December – and he accepted the £340,000 tariff, the sensible reading now was that Balotelli was close to drinking the last chance saloon dry: mess up again and even Mancini, his staunchest and final supporter at the club, would have to give up.
A City statement issued when Balotelli called off the tribunal said: "After amicable talks between the parties, as a sign of respect for Roberto Mancini, the supporters and the club, Mario Balotelli has chosen to accept a two-week fine levied upon him by the club and withdraw his disciplinary appeal, which was due to be heard by a Premier League panel today."
But just two weeks later came the final straw for Mancini. The scuffle in which he was photographed attempting to physically eject Balotelli from the training ground for a tackle on Scott Sinclair worth "two red cards" cast the manager as undignified at best and, at worse, as finally losing control of the Balotelli "narrative".
After Silvio Berlusconi ruled out Balotelli moving to Milan by branding him a "rotten apple", on Wednesday Napoli's head coach, Walter Mazzarri, summed up the conundrum the 22-year-old presents. He told Radio Monte Carlo: "I do not know him personally. I spoke to him once a few years ago at a hotel in Sorrento. He made a good impression on me but only those who know him well can say what kind of problems he might create in training. I've got a bit of experience, though, and it would be stimulating to work with a talent like his, but I don't know if that would ever happen."
What City hope for is a Carlos Tevez-style redemption. In September 2011, Mancini declared the Argentinian would never play again for him, after he refused to warm up for a Champions League group game at Bayern Munich. Within six months Tevez was reintegrated back into the side, and he is now applauded by the crowd at the Etihad Stadium, as the episode recedes further into memory.
If sold tomorrow, the price for Tevez would again be his true worth. If Balotelli keeps his head down and starts scoring the goals and winning the games he is capable of, City might see the forward's value rise again. But it is a big if.