CARSON -- Mario Balotelli took a defense-splitting pass from David Silva and bore down 1-on-1 with Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders. One touch and Manchester City's lead would be two goals not quite a half-hour into its friendly Sunday afternoon at Home Depot Center.
What Balotelli did next was inexplicable.
The Italian striker of Ghanaian descent, whose troubled background makes for one of soccer's most interesting personalities, decided to have a little fun. He pirouetted about 10 yards from the net, pulling the ball with his left foot, then tried to backheel it past Saunders. It went wide.
That was it for Balotelli, who was quickly hustled off the field by Man City manager Roberto Mancini, gave his boss an Italian salute (something akin to flipping the bird), then stormed to the end of the bench and plopped down.
Might this be the end of the Blues' experiment with the former Inter Milan star? Hardly.
“I think that we need to be always professional, always serious, and for me in that case, Mario wasn't professional,” said Mancini, a former Italian national-teamer who starred at Sampdoria and Lazio. “And for this, I change. ...
“Mario is young, sometimes he make mistake, but I want to help him always. I think this could be a lesson. If Mario serious, if he play serious, he can play like the first 25 minutes -- he played well, he worked, he scored goal on penalty [to give Man City a 20th-minute lead]. But after, no. ... For me, it's finished now. I hope that for him, it's an important lesson.”
It was a bizarre moment in an at-times invigorating match in the World Football Challenge series of friendlies that finished 1-1. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena called it “odd, to be honest with you,” but didn't want to talk about whether Balotelli disrespected his team with the maneuver.
Mike Magee, who scored the second-half equalizer, was willing to weigh in.
“It's not something I would do,” Magee said. “We might be a step down from the [English Premier League] as far as leagues and stuff, but we know we're good. If that was a 6-0 game and he does that, probably someone would have had a whack on him. ...
“Me, personally, I don't care what the guy does.”
Mancini cared deeply. As soon as the ball left Balotelli's heel, the City manager was calling over James Milner and signaling for a substitution. It took three minutes for the ball to stop for the change to be made, and Balotelli gave Mancini a puzzled shrug as he came off the field, asking why.
Mancini pointed toward the goal -- the message: you don't pull crap like that -- and Balotelli flicked his wrist along his chin and stamped away with the City boss trailing behind, lecturing.
What did they say?
“It was in Italian,” Mancini said. A translation, please? “In English, it's difficult.”
Balotelli wasn't on the bench in the second half, and he skipped the postgame mixed zone with the media, so no clue what he was thinking. Arena and Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter surmised that he might have thought he was offside and tried the maneuver as he gave up on the play.
“Mario is Italian,” Mancini said, then searched for the right words. His translator whispered something. Mancini continued: “He is streetwise. Mario knows he wasn't offside.”
No further discipline is coming, the coach said, noting that “just to take off the pitch after 30 minutes” is punishment enough.
“If one player has good behavior, plays for the team, plays strong, plays serious, he can stay on the pitch 90 minutes,” Mancini said. “If not, he can with me on the bench. ...
“He knows that he made a mistake. In football, we should be serious always, and if you have a chance to score a goal, you should score. ... But for me it's finished now. I hope for Mario, it is a lesson, and, hopefully, he can understand this.”