Debate: How do you solve a problem like Mario?

By Ben Burrows

As Mario Balotelli trudged off the pitch at the Emirates on Sunday, after being sent off for the fourth time, the debate raged once more – how do you solve a problem like Mario?

Undoubtedly talented but undoubtedly flawed – what will Roberto Mancini decide to do with his wayward striker?

Balotelli signed for City in a £24million deal from Inter Milan in 2010.

After a slow first season in the Premier League the Italian has been a key figure this season scoring 17 goals in all competitions including crucial strikes against Tottenham, Sunderland and the opening two goals in the 6-1 derby win over bitter rivals Manchester United.

But much of this good form has been overshadowed by high-profile disciplinary problems on and off the pitch.

Balotelli has seen red four times in a City shirt including twice this season.

Sunday’s incident in North London comes off the back of being dismissed against Liverpool in November as well as an alleged stamp on Tottenham’s Scott Parker which earned him a retrospective four game ban.

And with the FA taking a closer look at his studs-up challenge on Arsenal’s Alex Song, Balotelli could be banned for as many as nine matches now.

These on-field discrepancies are certainly talking points but his off-field antics are stuff of ultimately what Mario is known for.

Whether it’s setting fireworks off in his bathroom or crashing his Bentley on Deansgate.

Paying for everyones costs at a petrol station or driving through Moss Side with thousands of pounds cash on the passenger seat.

Mario is also alleged to have visited a women’s prison ‘just to have a look around’.

Truth or fairytale, Super Mario is a journalists dream.

But Sunday could be the straw that broke the camel’s back as Mancini is believed to be seriously considering ending the Mario experiment.

Speaking in the post-match press conference Mancini, when asked whether Balotelli would be sold, replied: “Probably.”

He added: “He is not a bad guy and a fantastic player but I’m very sorry for him as he continues to lose his talent and his quality.

“I don’t have any words for his behaviour.

“I hope for him he can understand he is in a bad way for his future and I really hope that he can change his behaviour in the future.

“I need to be sure I always have 11 players on the pitch and with Mario this is a big risk.”

Many pundits are laying City’s failure to secure the title firmly at Balotelli’s door but surely it is not as simple as that.

The form of star players such as David Silva and Yaya Toure has dropped in recent months and has arguably had a much more telling impact on City’s end of season than any of Balotelli’s indiscretions.

And besides without Balotelli’s 13 league goals City would surely not be where they are now.

Despite the issues there is certainly a great player waiting to emerge.

And among all of this it is easy to forget that Balotelli is still only 21.

He is a young boy plying his trade in a foreign country with the world at his feet. A few transgressions are surely par for the course.

Mancini sees the volatile Italian as potentially one of the top three players in the world – will he be willing to give up on that?

Or will City’s billionaire owners take the decision out of his hands?

As with Mancini’s own City future, only time will tell.

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