What do we know about Mario Balotelli’s relationship with Roberto Mancini at Manchester City? The he’s an errant son in a Freudian struggle with his father figure in Mancini? A protege taking advantage of the paternal affections of his mentor? That Mario is Wheels lying to his grandmother about going to a party on a school night?
I’m willing to bet we know nothing whatsoever about their relationship, apart from a) the fact Mancini started Balotelli in one or two games when it would seem prudent to try another striker, b) various press conferences in which Mancini expresses faith in his player, c) Balotelli’s acting out in various tabloid-friendly situations either on the pitch or off it and d) an interview with one of the Gallaghers in which Balotelli once linked his success to the faith of his manager.
This kind of relationship between a pissy player and stern manager isn’t new in football. Today, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo expressed filial expressions toward his former manager at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, vowing not to celebrate if he scores against them in their round of 16 match in the Champions League. Ronaldo, you’ll note, was heavily criticized for a time at United for failing to distribute the ball, for generally being selfish. And yet Ferguson “had faith”, and Ronaldo kept playing, until he became rather good.
Ferguson however had a much better touch with the press than Mancini, and Ronaldo was on the whole more disciplined in his private life (save for a wrecked Ferrari). And while Ronaldo was a character at times on the pitch, he rarely did anything to overtly irk his manager.
Still in that instance, we were spared the Prodigal Son narrative from the press. Perhaps Mancini is a dupe and Mario is a manipulator, but all of that is extrapolation from a barebones set of facts for the sake of a narrative trope. But to report on this narrative as if it were anything more than a convenient fiction doesn’t provide much of a service to anyone.
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