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Time for PSG to move on from oft-injured Pastore?


Super Mario in the groove

Mario Balotelli appears to be impervious to any criticism flowing in his direction, which may be a useful character trait ahead of a season that has the potential to define the career of Manchester City's maverick striker.

• Bidwell: Sergio Aguero Q&A
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Roberto Mancini is the latest manager attempting to tame a hit-man whose unpredictable temperament got them better of him once again when opted to perform a pirouette on the ball rather than convert a chance when he was sent clear on goal against LA Galaxy last weekend.

A blazing touchline row with his boss and his instant removal from the game in Los Angeles was Balotelli's inevitable fate, with his angry reaction to his substitution confirming his eccentricities were not a point of regret for the 20-year-old novice who tends to reside in his own bubble.

Master manipulator Jose Mourinho is among those who have tried and failed to unravel the Balotelli puzzle, but Mancini seems ready to persist with a player whose raw abilities make him an exciting prospect, even at a club whose limitless riches could see them plump for an altogether more reliable centre-forward.

The days since Balotelli's latest moment of madness have seen City spend a club record £38 million to sign attacking star Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, yet such minor developments were hardly likely to ruffle the feathers of our Mario.

All eyes were trained on Balotelli as he returned to action in the final game of the Dublin Super Cup, yet pressure is not a commodity this leggy striker identifies with. As he shared some humour with his former Inter Milan team-mates in the Aviva Stadium tunnel prior to a fixture that had more than a hint of a competitive edge attached to it, few would have believed this under-fire striker was on a mission to rebuild bridges his stupidity had broken.

However, once the whistle sounded for the first time, it quickly became clear that Balotelli had fallen out of the right side of the bed this Sunday as he set about his old team mates with real relish and focus as City ran out 3-0 winners.

His powerful header just over the bar in the third minute was followed up by a spurned chance he should have converted from close range, but Balotelli's effort and commitment to the City cause confirmed his mind was on the job rather than seeking to inject some of his own unconventional 'entertainment'.

The goal he craved arrived on the stroke of half-time, with a mistake from Inter keeper Julio Cesar eventually led to City's opener. The power Balotelli got into his header highlighted one of the more impressive qualities of a player whose aerial threat could be vital in the Premier League this season.

That strike should have been a cue for half-time eulogies to be penned in Balotelli's favour, yet he ended the first half by indulging in an on-field argument with City colleague Aleksandar Kolorov. As ever, the Italian proved that he is not one to give ground in a heated debate and he held his own as the two teams headed down the tunnel amid passionate dialogue.

Edin Dzeko's goal 33 seconds after the re-start effectively secured a City victory in this prestige pre-season showdown and with the game losing some of its shape as the second half ambled along in the Dublin rain, Balotelli allowed the more frustrating side of his character to re-emerge.

As some wayward back heels were followed up by apparent lack of interest to set up a team mate to score a third goal when he carelessly gave the ball away 15 minutes from time, Mancini hauled his man off once again and indulged in another hearty touchline discussion. Despite that, his tribute to Balotelli as he met the media appeared to be heartfelt.

"Mario should play like this every day," was Mancini's verdict of the striker he so publically fell out with a week ago. "When you look at the class and ability he has, there is no reason why he cannot achieve everything and it is up to him to prove he can do it consistently.

"Concentration is the important quality Mario needs to think about and that is the same for all my players. I said before we need Balotelli to be serious in every game he plays and on this afternoon, he was serious. If he does that every week, we will all be satisfied."

This victory represented a useful confidence booster for a City side who should have the exciting Aguero to add to their attacking mix for next's weekend's Community Shield clash against Manchester United at Wembley, but it should be noted that Inter Milan hardly played this game at full pace.

That much was confirmed as the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o smiled and chuckled their way through much of a game that lacked the intensity of, for instance, a Champions League clash.

Inter's defeat slipped into the comprehensive category as substitutes Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adam Johnson combined to allow the latter to add the third goal of the game. It was enough for Mancini's men to comfortably lift the inaugural Dublin Super Cup.

As for Balotelli, he went some way to banishing the memory of the latest stain on his image and while there is bound to be a point in the upcoming Premier League season when his worth will be measured against his nuisance value, those of us looking on can delight in the mayhem his presence looks certain to guarantee.

MAN OF THE MATCH: David Silva - This little Spaniard has been the biggest success story of City's lavish spending splurge over the last 12 months. Silva's passing was sublime against Inter.

PRESS BOX RUMOUR: Wesley Sneijder's proposed move from Inter Milan to Manchester United could be revived if he agrees to fit into the wage structure at Old Trafford. His current salary at the San Siro will not be matched by the Premier League champions.

DUBLIN DISAPPOINTMENT: Irish football authorities have been promoting this pre-season tournament for many weeks, but moderate crowds produced diluted atmospheres at the Aviva Stadium. Not even the presence of Celtic was enough to attract the hoards.

BALOTELLI VERDICT: His languid style gives the impression that he lacks interest in his work, but the inspirational flashes he provides makes him an enigma who could just be City's wild card in the months ahead. On the other hand, he could end up being a dangerous liability. Mario, it's over to you.


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