Regardless of whether he wins or loses his case against Manchester City on Wednesday, it's time for Mario Balotelli to move on. He's as mad as a lorry and wired to explode, he's playing under a manager with absolutely no patience for mavericks and he's only scored once in the league all season. Frankly, it's amazing that he's lasted this long.
Though there are still those who doubt his ability, there is absolutely no question that Balotelli has everything it takes to be one of Europe's best strikers. Physically, he's strong and quick, technically, he has outstanding close control and mentally, he has that streak of arrogance that enables him to try the kind of tricks that most strikers wouldn't even attempt on a PlayStation. His performances in the European Championship proved that he's a first class footballer. It's just a shame that his performances in the Premier League this season have proved that he's still not a player you can rely on in the long-term.
In Balotelli's defence, he's clearly a complex character who requires careful handling. He's not exactly getting that from Mancini. You get the feeling that if you asked Mancini to carefully handle a bomb, he'd put it in the corner of the room and throws rocks at it. Tough love is all well and good if it gets results, but every time Mancini publicly eviscerates his young forward, he only makes him worse.
Sometimes it seems like he's vindictively singling him out for criticism, as if Balotelli has to take twice the punishment now that one-time whipping boy Adam Johnson has fled to Sunderland. Neither Balotelli nor Samir Nasri covered themselves in glory against Manchester United, but when Mancini picked his team for the next game at Newcastle, the young Italian was out and the cowardly ex Arsenal man was in. Nasri, explained Mancini, was "a top player." By implication, therefore, Balotelli is not.
Mancini would counter that he has the responsibility of looking after an entire squad of players and that he hasn¹t the time to carefully handle a hulking man-child with behavioural issues. By all accounts, it's a feeling shared by many of the senior players who have long since tired of putting up with his attitude in exchange for substandard performances. He may not have many friends in Abu Dhabi either, given that the owners have certain ideas of how their players should represent the club. Balotelli is running out of allies.
Ultimately, City will feel that they shouldn't have to put up with things like this now. They're not contenders anymore, they're champions. With their resources, and remember that Balotelli is paid an eye-watering £170,000 a week, they should be able to attract a world class team of professionals who can get through the day without chucking darts at the youth team. Whether the blame lies with the player or the manager, it's a problem they'd be happy to pass on to someone else.
The only hurdle is that there won't be many teams out there confident that they could cope with him, still less that could afford to keep him in fireworks. A loan move may be the best that he could hope for, unless he takes the unorthodox route of acknowledging that money is less important than happiness, and takes a pay cut to move back to Italy. With Balotelli, you can't rule anything out.
It's a shame that his time in England has come to this. He had the potential to be a very special footballer, not to mention a very special kind of lunatic. There was a time when you could throw any random variables into a tweet and start a Balotelli rumour that no-one would be able to confidently discount.
"Mario Balotelli has just been spotted riding [an elephant] through the streets of Manchester, throwing [cans of beans] at [old age pensioners]." But depart he must. Neither he nor City are getting anything out of this doomed relationship.