BUCK UP BALOTELLI; MARIO AT CROSSROADS CITY BOSS OFFERS REBEL A ROUTE BACK; Mancini: Perform Well for Me and You Will Play, Mario - If Not You Are Staying at Home
Byline: DAVID ANDERSON email@example.com
ROBERTO MANCINI has offered outcast Mario Balotelli an olive branch, claiming he could yet have a future at Manchester City.
Balotelli's fraught relationship with City will hit an all-time low today when he takes the club to a Premier League tribunal to fight their decision to fine him PS340,000.
The striker is incensed that the club have docked him two weeks' wages because of the two red and nine yellow cards he accumulated last season.
Although several figures at the Etihad would be prepared to offload Balotelli, Mancini still believes in him. He has left the door open for him to return to his squad, even for Saturday's home clash with Reading, if he bucks up his attitude.
The City boss dropped Balotelli from his travelling party to Newcastle on Saturday and says he can win back his place if he knuckles down in training.
"He needs to train," said Mancini. "I don't think he was happy about it, but when he starts to show his quality he will play again.
"We won the title last year because all the strikers scored a lot of goals. I wanted it to be the same this year. So if a player like Mario is not performing, then he will stay at home."
Mancini is being pragmatic and with Reading beginning a hectic run of five games in 15 days for the champions over the Christmas and New Year period, the Italian wants all his striking options available.
He still has misgivings about Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez and is prepared to persevere with Balotelli, who has a virus and could not train yesterday, because he feels he has the potential to be one of the best strikers in the world.
"We need to have all the players this month as we have a lot of games in two weeks," he said.
Mancini is also mindful he may need Balotelli if Samir Nasri misses out through injury.
"I don't think he will be ready for Saturday," he said. "He played very well at Newcastle, I want him to play always like that because if he does, we will have fewer problems."
Mancini is just about Balotelli's only remaining ally at City and senior figures in the dressing room have run out of patience with the Italy striker because of his repeated indiscipline.
AC Milan are ready to offer him an escape route back to the San Siro, but Mancini is adamant he does not want to sell him in January.
Balotelli grew up supporting Milan and the Rossoneri are long-term admirers. But Milan would not be able to afford the transfer fee in excess of PS20million which City would demand for the former Inter Milan star or his PS170,000-a-week salary.
Just as they tried unsuccessfully with Tevez, Milan are hoping City will accept either a loan move or a cut-price bid to get rid of Balotelli. They are encouraged by the noises coming out of the Etihad and feel Mancini will cave into the mounting pressure to offload him.
Today's tribunal in London is unlikely to bring an end to Balotelli's bitter dispute with the Blues and it is understood he will take his case to the Football League's appeals committee if he loses.
That would drag the process into the New Year and serve as an unwelcome distraction for City as they attempt to catch Manchester United in the title race.
Although the Professional Football Association are not representing Balotelli at today's hearing, they are sending senior executive Richard Jobson to assist his Italian legal team. …