The manager dropped Balotelli from the 18-man squad for the 3-2 Champions League defeat at Real Madrid on Wednesday after he started at Stoke City last Saturday, yet Mancini insisted there is no problem between him and the player.
"It's totally false what someone wrote," said Mancini, referring to a report that the 22-year-old and the manager had an argument over Balotelli's indiscipline. "It is not true. Mario went to the stand only because we decided to play with only [Carlos] Tevez. Mario is a player like other players, when he is on the bench sometimes they don't understand." Asked how he reacted to being left out, Mancini said: "He was upset, this is normal. I think a player who can't play in the Bernabéu, it is normal."
Balotelli started the 2-2 draw at Liverpool on 26 August and was the only player in the squad at Stoke who was not named by Mancini for Real. He had a successful Euro 2012 campaign, spearheading his country's attack as Italy reached the semi-finals. When that was put to Mancini, he said: "[The] Euros are different, you have five games in 20 days. Here, [there are] also tactical situations and one important player like Mario or James Milner can go in the stands."
City's trip to Real is potentially the toughest challenge of a Champions League group that also includes the Dutch champions, Ajax, and Borussia Dortmund, the German title holders. Balotelli created Sergio Agüero's stoppage-time goal against Queens Park Rangers that won the league last season but Mancini refused to explain why his stock had fallen since, saying: "I should take the best decisions for the team, before. After, maybe it is a mistake."
With Tevez and Agüero ahead of Balotelli and Edin Dzeko being preferred on the bench on Wednesday, can Balotelli, Italy's No1 striker, ever have the same role at City? "We have four top players and usually we played with two and two on the bench but we also have a player who can play second striker like Yaya [Touré], Samir [Nasri] or David [Silva]. Yes it is difficult [to keep him happy] but Mario went in the stand in Madrid and maybe he can play on Sunday. I don't want that every time that Mario doesn't play it is because he did something wrong."
Mancini would not be drawn on how Balotelli spends his spare time. "In the night, I don't go with Mario and I don't know what his private life [is]." He also stated that if Balotelli wishes to smoke that is his decision. Mancini said: "It is not my problem. I don't smoke, I don't like to smoke. If he wants to smoke, it is his problem. If he wants my opinion it is better if he finishes."
The striker has unhappy memories of City's last meeting with Arsenal, when he was sent off in a 1-0 defeat that appeared to end the club's title challenge. That red card made it three for the season and, also facing sanction for a dangerous tackle on Bacary Sagna in the same match, Balotelli might have been banned for a total of nine matches. The defeat at Arsenal came on 8 April and with a month or so left of the campaign it appeared Balotelli would miss the remainder and City the championship as they departed the Emirates eight points behind Manchester United.
This caused Mancini to suggest Balotelli could be sold this summer. But the striker was handed only a three-game ban and he returned on the last day as a replacement against QPR, creating the winner that sealed City's first title in 44 years.
Mancini also played down a row with another of his players. Following the defeat in Madrid, he criticised Joe Hart for blaming the side for allowing a 2-1 lead with four minutes remaining to be squandered but the manager said on Friday: "Joe didn't say anything [special]. We don't have any problem with Joe. I think sometimes it is good, to talk if something is wrong. But I don't think Joe said something special."
Mancini dropped Joleon Lescott for the Madrid game, selecting the 19-year-old Matija Nastasic instead for his City debut. "Joleon is an important player for us, like all the others. We have 23 good players and sometimes I can change this. Joleon started his pre-season very late [because of Euro 2012]," he said.
Mancini suggested that Agüero may start against Arsenal having been out since the sixth minute of the season when injuring his knee against Southampton. "Sergio is fit. We are unlucky because I wanted to put him on in the Bernabéu but we had a couple of injuries."
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image: © Andrew Brannan