x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mario Balotelli: Tearaway to teacher's pet

The Italy striker is back in the good books at Manchester City, while Sir Alex Ferguson's predictions about Stoke City were spot on.

Worst boot licking - Balotelli

Football is no place for a nauseating goody two-shoes. You know the type. They suck up to their managers, probably by washing their car or by leaving an apple on the desk in their office every Monday morning. The sort of player you never read about in the papers for staying out late, or causing dressing room friction, or driving over the speed limit.

Judging by the way he ran to Roberto Mancini, his manager at Manchester City, and wrapped him in a bear hug after scoring the opening goal against Everton on Saturday, Mario Balotelli has come over all Gary Neville. What a creep.

What is wrong with trying a ludicrous back-heel, shouting at a teammate, storming off down the tunnel then speeding away to park his Maserati in a restricted zone? He has turned boring.

Best prophecy - Ferguson

Talking of annoying character traits, there are ways and means of winning an argument.

Ending a debate by saying "my opinion is more important than everyone else's - so there", as Sir Alex Ferguson essentially did in response to the Owen Hargreaves injury furore, is just irritating.

However, Manchester United's manager has been around the tracks enough times to know what he is talking about.

Before their match at Stoke City on Saturday, for example, he predicted it would be the toughest test of his hitherto unstoppable side's start to the season.

They may have put eight past Arsenal, and trounced Chelsea, too, but they dropped their first points of the campaign at a rocking Britannia Stadium.

Ferguson said the atmosphere would be electric and a difficult hurdle to overcome. He was not wrong. Stoke fans do not know what a prawn sandwich looks like, and the Premier League is a far better place because of it.

Worst week - Torres

Two goals in seven days represents untold riches for Fernando Torres, given the risible run he has been on for the past year and a half. However, the past week has been one of extremes for Chelsea's Spanish centre-forward.

There were the highs of neat strikes against Manchester United and Swansea City. But he also lurched to the bottom end of the spectrum in both games, first with his extraordinary miss at Old Trafford. Then on Saturday, at Stamford Bridge, when he seemed to be warming to the task of firing a few in against the Premier League new boys, he got himself sent off for a reckless tackle.

Forwards are not supposed to be able to tackle, and he clearly cannot. Better off sticking to the goal scoring, Fernando, especially now you have relocated the goalposts.

Best centurion - Van Persie

The English cricket season has more or less wound its way to a conclusion now, but Arsenal - who have been on the end of a couple of cricket scores of late - were still celebrating a centurion on Saturday.

By the time Robin van Persie had completed his two-goal haul against Bolton Wanderers, he had become the 17th player to score a ton of goals for Arsenal.

It is said that if you can keep your head while all those around are losing theirs, you probably do not know what is going on. Van Persie obviously never received the memo about the crisis engulfing Arsenal, what with the departures of all the other top players, and the miserable performances on the field.

All the while he seems to have been gloriously oblivious: despite the malaise, he has scored 21 goals in Arsenal's last 23 league games.

Worst stock slump - Coyle

When Owen Coyle was making his name as a coach, his stock continued to rise like it was being managed by a fearless and astute young trader.

Now it seems like he has gone rogue. He arrived at Bolton Wanderers - albeit under a localised cloud as he had jumped ship from neighbours Burnley - with a burgeoning reputation, and he was often touted as the next taxi off the rank for a genuinely big club.

And all the while, he seemed measured on the touchline and in interviews. After the boom, signs of bust are now starting to show.

His side have lost five successive matches in the Premier League, and the 3-0 deficit to Arsenal on Saturday could have been far worse. He has started to look visibly hot under the collar, too.

As Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, once said of Arsene Wenger, his counterpart at Arsenal, now Coyle is becoming just as much of a nutter as the rest of them.


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