Mancini: Volatile Balotelli is easy target
The volatile, 21-year-old Italian lasted just 18 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute in last weekend's 1-1 draw at Liverpool before being sent off after two yellow cards, his third dismissal since joining City in August 2010.
After the game, Mancini accused Liverpool players of trying to provoke his young compatriot and he was asked at his Friday news conference whether Balotelli could expect more of the same in the future because of his notoriously short fuse.
"I think there are some players that think this [that he is easy to wind up]," he replied.
"Mario should play attention... and he should be clever."
Balotelli's colourful behaviour, flashes of brilliance and nonchalance when he scores a goal have made him a popular player among fans even if his red cards have sometimes proved costly.
Last weekend his early departure left his team facing a desperate battle to keep their unbeaten record as Liverpool launched a frantic onslaught, while his red card against Dynamo Kiev in March played a big part in their Europa League exit.
Goals such as the classy opener he scored against Manchester United in October's 6-1 drubbing have enabled much of his bad behaviour to be forgiven by the indulgent fans who smiled at the "Why Always Me?" T-shirt he wore under his shirt that day.
Well-documented antics such as setting fire to his house by letting off fireworks in his bathroom, as well as good-hearted gestures such as confronting one young City fan's bully at school, have led to him being seen as a loveable rogue.
His mad-cap behaviour is mostly laughed off by Mancini, who explained the T-shirt episode as: "It's Mario... He's crazy but I love him" and even made light of media reports that the striker had kicked a hole in the dressing-room door at Anfield.
"If he damaged the door, he'll pay - like his house! Nothing else will happen to him," Mancini was quoted as saying last week.
There is a serious side to the Balotelli issue, however, and Mancini cannot afford to let a hot-headed player destroy City's chances of a first English league title since 1968.
During matches, the manager can be seen talking to Balotelli more than any other player from his technical area and, while he can try to encourage him to stay level-headed, Mancini said it was up to the striker to keep a lid on his temperament.
"We can't do anything, only he is on the pitch. He should pay attention on the pitch and think only about football, not other things," Mancini said.
He added that Balotelli, who has scored six league goals this season, had matured of late and had improved as a player but urged him to realise he could not take risks as he did against Liverpool.
"It's important that Mario understands that we need him as a player on the pitch," he said. "It is my opinion that if Mario had stayed on the pitch we could have won that game."