Wasn’t Monday nice? The sun was out, City were imperious, the team were professional and did their job, the manager stayed in the background and said the right things, the team briefly topped a table that has no importance at such an early stage, there were new pies and chips and burgers and everyone went home happy. This is how it should be, even if it was slightly boring without a midweek scrap on the training ground, a grumpy Mancini on the touchline distributing fruit pastilles like they were going out of fashion and without the other mercurial Italian moodily slouching round the pitch on the brink of a red card.
That mercurial Italian was instead playing for AC Milan this week in a Champions League qualifying tie at PSV, and he was back to his old, snarling self, throwing himself to the ground with every gust of wind, arguing with officials and players, sulking and generally making a nuisance of himself. Balotelli was booked and spent much of the remaining minutes remonstrating with the referee. He was booked six times in 13 Serie A appearances for AC Milan last season, missing one game through an automatic suspension and a further one for insulting an assistant referee.
As a result, AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has told him to accept refereeing decisions and stop answering back to officials in future.
I am often told that football needs characters. They make the game what it is – after all, imagine the boredom of eleven Michael Owens in every team. Football might well need characters, but my football team does not. Let other teams have them and City can get on with winning games.
I spent two years defending Balotelli against the ridiculous press coverage he received in this country, but in the end even I gave up. Even Roberto Mancini did. He didn’t deserve much of that coverage, but he didn’t help himself. A brilliant player he most certainly is, and his move back to Italy probably suited all sides as he may reach his potential back in his homeland, eventually. He certainly wasn’t going to at City.
You can’t see City’s new manager making the back pages of the newspapers for any off-the-field antics, nor most of the players, driving discretions apart, obeying the speed limit being a skill that many a modern footballer hasn’t yet mastered. This naturally helps the team in their title challenge, as it is always a bonus not to have your best player out for the first six games of a season, or not have some other controversy hanging over the club for months on end. So I’m sorry, but give me twenty-five boring professionals every day of the week.
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