Two of the Premiership’s ‘bad boys’ have done much to shape their teams fortunes at the end of another remarkable season. Balotelli’s petulant displays have all but handed the trophy back to Fergie and the rest of the Red Devils, while Ben Arfa’s outstanding performances have propelled Newcastle towards Europe.
Often able to frustrate and amaze in equal measure, these ‘flair’ players have had a very contrasting few weeks.
The Etihad appears to have turned on Marmite Mario. After praise from supporters earlier in the season they have turned on him, beyond this; De Jong has labelled him a ‘fool’, after his abject shift against Arsenal, Milner reportedly refused to speak about the Italian and Mancini effectively put him up for sale.
In contrast, Alan Pardew has spoken of Ben Arfa’s ‘genius’ and recently, along with Tim Krul compared him to Messi. Although undoubtedly premature, there are certainly glimpses of the little magician within this French maverick. Just look at his wonderful solo efforts against Blackburn in the FA Cup and Bolton. The boy is clearly very talented.
However, despite this clear contrast, Balotelli and Ben Arfa are in fact very similar. Both are wonderfully gifted footballers but are often naïve, often petulant and have suffered greatly because of it.
Balotelli’s issues have been well documented in the media, often rather unfairly in my opinion but it is clear he brings a lot of unwanted baggage and as a result disrupts the dressing room. Mourinho described him as ‘un-coachable’; he often argues with team mates, has been unnecessarily sent off on more than one occasion and continues to throw tantrums when things do not go his way, beyond this he has also has a very colourful personal life.
Some of Ben Arfa’s achievements include arguing with team mates, falling out with managers, refusing to play for Marseille to engineer a move and apparently falling asleep whilst on the bench for Lyon.
His dented reputation led to a move to Newcastle for next to nothing and someone has clearly got hold of him and is now tapping into his raw talent. Whether it is Alan Pardew or the nucleus of young French-speaking talent within the squad, (Cisse, Ba, Cabaye, Obertan, Tiote, Abeid) they have done a wonderful job.
So then, what to do with Mario?
To begin with his relationship with Mancini is very strange. The City manager often berates him but continues to play him, he then praises him but is forced to take him off when his temper frays, which it often does. Mancini is so important to Mario, and has invested so much in him and yet Balotelli continues to throw it back in his face.
If the manager is not the solution, what about his team mates? Surely the ‘leaders’ in the dressing room (Kompany, the Toure’s, Hart, Richards) have read the riot act in attempts to put him straight – why hasn’t it worked and what more can be done to resurrect his career in the blue half of Manchester.
Many ex-professionals have all but described him as a lost cause, but is he? Is it possible that someone or something can tap into his obvious talent? Is there an option to sign a close colleague or friend from abroad or bring in some Italian internationals (De Rossi) to help make him feel more comfortable – the club certainly have the money to do this?
Unfortunately for Roberto and others I do not have the answer and ultimately much of the hard work is down to Balotelli himself and the main thing for him is not to waste his talent and to finally show the world that he is as good as he says he is.
Although, he must begin this transition sooner rather than later because if Mancini, one of his fiercest allies is beginning to give up on him then it would be difficult to see where he would go next and more importantly where he would succeed.