City must be ruthless over Balotelli

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Any serial attendees of Bruce Springsteen concerts are likely to be able to sympathise with supporters of Manchester City right now.

A stadium rock favourite in his prime, Springsteen's back catalogue demands shows of close to three hours in length, giving enough time to promote his recent material, while littering this set-list with old favourites. Like many acts of his age and stage the old adage of ageing like a fine wine doesn't completely ring true, but there's enough to keep the fans coming back.

His metronomic performances at Glastonbury in 2009 bore the truth of his current standing as the crowd's clamour for favourite 'Born to Run' grew with every album filler. You wonder how much longer Springsteen's current following are willing to put up with the Boss' drivel. There must be times when they wonder why they bother.

Supporters at the Etihad Stadium have a similar dilemma. While Mario Balotelli's brilliance has often pulled City out of the fire this season, his frequent indiscipline is undermining his headline status at the Manchester club. Roberto Mancini now has to decide whether Balotelli's talent is worth persisting with amid his alarming temper.

To coin another Springsteen song title, Balotelli's something of a 'Dead Man Walkin' in the Premier League.

Even the most anti-Balotelli protestors will admit that blame for the eroding of City's title ambitions this season can't be wholly laid at the Italian's door. The sporadic absence of Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany coupled with the decline of David Silva would be a more accurate reason, not to mention Manchester United's 11 wins out of 12.

What must not be forgotten is the occasions when Balotelli has been the difference for City at crucial moments of the season.

Forgotten among the deluge of goals in the second-half, but the 21-year-old scored perhaps the decisive goal during the mauling at Old Trafford, stroking home beautifully before United went down to ten men.

Fast-forward three months, and Balotelli stepped up to inflict defeat on Tottenham Hotspur from the penalty spot, with unerring nerve deep in stoppage time.

Then more recently, despite arguing with teammates over free-kicks, Balotelli inspired a City side without Sergio Aguero to a draw with Sunderland when Mancini's side look dead and buried.

Those moments, over a season, swing title races and until City's collapse in March, had looked like being the difference.

Having been the source of inspiration at vital points of the campaign, the moment things go wrong the blame shouldn't be directed towards the man responsible for several City bailouts.

However, City face a greater problem than just giving up league title; their integrity as a club is taking a battering as well.

Balotelli's behaviour against Arsenal, where he seemed intent on taking an early bath, should be the tip of the iceberg as far as Mancini's patience goes. The afternoon was littered with a myriad of petty tackles, including arguably the poorest challenge of the season, which he will inexplicably escape punishment for.

Cliched it might be, but considering how his opposite number Sir Alex Ferguson might have dealt with Balotelli's antics points to the decision Mancini should be making come the end of the season.

The former Inter Milan striker is undermining everything City are trying to build, and while he is the face of the club, no progression can be made on or off the pitch.

Mancini has already stated that he will 'probably' sell Balotelli in the coming summer, but frankly it's difficult not to take his comments with a pinch of salt. He has a history with hollow threats.

So much praise flooded his way for bringing back Carlo Tevez after his actions in Munich; would it be a complete surprise to see Balotelli in the blue of City again next season?

There's little doubt that Balotelli's talent outweighs his misdemeanors, but while he's allowed to continue, the public image of City will continue to be dragged through the mud.

Born to Run? more like Born to Ruin.

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Manchester City
Premier League
Mario Balotelli

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