They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but if that picture is of a notorious Premier League personality engaging in a wrestling match with his manager then it will inspire considerably more. Maybe tens of thousands of words, countless tweets and a collection of unfavourable back pages.
The enduring power of the image was in evidence yesterday when pictures of Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini involved in a physical confrontation at City’s Carrington training ground suddenly dropped on Twitter in the afternoon, causing jaws to collectively drop in response.
The sheer shock of seeing a Premier League manager getting to grips with one of his star players guaranteed this was an image that would be adorning every newspaper; such was its rarity, this would be a massive talking point, a huge story. But what kind of story? If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, what precisely was this one saying?
Almost immediately it appeared the conclusion would be that bad boy Balotelli – the dart-hurling, firework-igniting, trampoline-ordering, tramp-paying lunatic of legend – would bear the brunt of criticism. Was this the end of his City career? Where did this rank on his rap sheet of previous offences?
Vox pops on Sky Sports News lambasted the striker for his latest indiscretion, and let’s be fair about this, it was only the latest. After all, Balotelli has also been snapped at City’s training ground having confrontations with Jerome Boateng, Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards too. You begin to form the impression he treats training day in much the same way as Denzel Washington’s murderous character in the film of the same name.
But look again at the photos: is it not Mancini who appears to be the man who is less in control, and the more confrontational? Isn’t there more of a concern that a manager is losing his rag in training than a player – the man overseeing the physical encounter rather than the participant?
Rightly, Mancini's role was gradually put under more scrutiny and the back pages turn the focus firmly on his role in the matter, 'MADCINI' being a representative flavour of the coverage. Neither man escapes criticism for a rather unsavoury episode that has laid bare the tensions that underpin their relationship.
This is undoubtedly a scandal, but City are also desperately unfortunate that a public pathway continues to provide access to their training facilities, ensuring that enterprising snappers are gifted a good bust-up every few months as the club are unable to prevent them from snooping on practice sessions.
Though ED doesn’t imagine for a second that tussles between managers and players are weekly occurrences on neatly-trimmed practice pitches across the country, the fact City’s was captured on film lends it far greater significance. This is a snapshot of a side of football that the public never sees. It has a hint of the forbidden, the voyeuristic, about it. No doubt many were simultaneously affronted and excited when viewing the snaps.
But these things do go on. Imagine if photographers had captured the moment when then Grimsby manager Brian Laws chucked a plate of chicken wings at Ivano Bonetti, Sir Alex Ferguson kicked a boot at David Beckham or, perhaps most infamously, Stoke manager Tony Pulis reputedly launched a naked headbutt at James Beattie in 2009.
Pulis’s incident of angry towel-slippage has become a great slapstick moment created by the collective imagination. But caught on film, and splashed across every national newspaper, it probably would have caught fire as a controversy and led to indignant calls for his dismissal.
There is a theory in physics that the act of observing something changes the nature of that which is being observed. In the case of City’s training ground disputes it gives them weightier significance because similar incidents elsewhere go unwatched. Other clubs conduct their bust-ups in hermetically sealed worlds, under the cover of a media blackout.
ED isn't trying to defend either man or make a case that Mancini was merely attempting to help Balotelli with his bib – despite the problems he has had in that area in the past – but a set of static pictures - no matter how explosive - don't always tell the whole story.
It’s undoubtedly embarrassing for the club and undermines Mancini’s authority to an extent, as it does Balotelli's reputation, again. Perhaps this will be the final straw for City's owners and a striker who has scored one league goal this season will be sold in January. Certainly it could be cause for internal disciplinary action - directed at both men. But perhaps we should be wary of endowing it with too great a significance.
Strangely enough, only a couple of hours before the news broke, ED was relieving the tedium of scouting out some League Two news by having a sneaky read of an excellent piece that showed previously unseen photographs taken just before famous shots had been captured: The Beatles casually adjusting their suits before then crossing Abbey Road; a bog-standard frame of an operating theatre, then one, closer, of a baby's hand briefly reaching out of a womb incision to grab a surgeon's finger.
It proved that while iconic images have a huge power of their own, they are part of a bigger picture. While the camera never lies, it might not tell the whole truth.
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An extended Foreign View today as ED turns to an incident that has much greater significance for the game of football than a squabble at City's training ground. Because yesterday, a significant stand against racism was made.
During a friendly against lower league side Pro Patria, AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng snapped. After he and some of his team-mates had been repeatedly targeted with racist abuse, he picked the ball up, booted it at a group of guilty supporters and stormed off the pitch, taking both sets of players with him.
As an example of how direct action can have a much more profound impact on the racism debate than paltry fines, it was devastatingly effective. Boateng was roundly praised for the firm stance he took in demonstrating such abuse was absolutely unacceptable and proved that if football is to address racism properly, then walking off the pitch is the best strategy to take.
ED has no time for the argument that storming off the pitch means the racists have in some way won because they have provoked a response. These morons have come to see a football match and to deny them that is far more effective than fining their club 10,00 euros. They'd soon get fed up if every time they started making monkey chants players walked off the pitch and games were abandoned.
So bravo, Kevin-Prince, for doing what the governing bodies have so spectacularly failed to do and actually taking the initiative to say that football will not tolerate racism in any form.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "When he played at Ajax he played in behind the central striker as a No 10, in between the lines. He also played as a reverse winger from the left side. He wasn’t quite out wide, he was tucked in round the corner." - Who else but Brendan Rodgers, talking about Luis Suarez.
COMING UP: It's FA Cup third-round weekend and we have all the team news for you as Premier League Goliaths go up against lower-league Davids. Roberto Mancini is also holding his weekly press conference today, which could be interesting, while Jim White is on blog duty for us.