After all the flashpoints and controversies, the trophies won and red cards, the impassioned defences and public rows, Roberto Mancini wore a weary and rueful expression.
Speaking to BBC Match of the Day following Manchester City's frustrating 0-0 draw at Queens Park Rangers in January 2013 – a result that pushed a hard-earned Premier League title further back in the direction of Manchester United – the Italian confirmed his compatriot Mario Balotelli would join AC Milan on an initial loan.
"I think that this is a good chance for Mario to come back in Italy. I am very sorry because we love him as a guy and a player," Mancini said.
"We are so sad in this moment. I think he will miss me… not only me, but all the journalists. For you he was very important."
The quip tagged on at the end – mirth never was or is far away from Balotelli – could not shift the sense of sorrow and sadness.
Mancini had made this lavishly gifted performer, only ever a couple of flicks and tricks away from self-destruction, his project. A few weeks earlier, the man who coached a teenage Balotelli at Inter, said he would give the striker "another 100 chances" following an infamous training ground bust-up. Suddenly, it was all over.
Well, it was until Tuesday, when Mancini faced his first news conference as Italy head coach.
"I hope that I can be the person who brings Italy back to a significant triumph," he said, before adding to the surprise of no one in particular, "I will certainly speak with Balotelli also."
WHY ALWAYS HIM?
What is striking about Mancini's relationship with Balotelli, especially when considering the 53-year-old's reputation as a tough task master to whom few players warm, is the enduring affection from the older man.
Part coach, part surrogate father, he's never truly cross; just disappointed.
In 2016, when telling L'Equipe about his unseemly grapple with Balotelli on City's training pitches before that switch to Milan, Mancini ended up repeatedly calling him a "phenomenon".
He was referring to the 6-1 derby win at Manchester United, where Balotelli shrugged off a fireworks mishap from the night before in his own bathroom to coolly give City the lead, unveiled an iconic t-shirt slogan and spearheaded a defining triumph. He forced Jonny Evans into a red card and opened the floodgates with City's second.
That Old Trafford lunchtime, it was easy to see what all the fuss was about and why it was maybe worth tolerating the accompanying madness. All the Balotelli hallmarks were there – the intelligent, pacey movement; the power and strength; the deft touches and the precise, no-backlift finishing. All wrapped up in a non-negotiable layer of mischief.
"That day, it was like Mario was grown up, an adult, and all the others were children," Mancini said.
There were other fleeting and irresistible glimpses of what the man-child might look like as a fully-fledged grown up. Take when Balotelli demolished Germany almost single-handedly in the semi-final of Euro 2012, or his impeccable man-of the-match showing in an FA Cup semi-final win over United a year earlier.
Leading the line in the injury absence of Carlos Tevez, Balotelli played like an esteemed veteran in a 1-0 win. Then, at full-time, he decided to entertain himself away from his celebrating team-mates by winding up Rio Ferdinand. Mancini pulled him away from the fracas.
Mancini and Balotelli were a double act City fans adored. Mancini because of where he promised to take them and Balotelli because he offered a brilliantly surreal reminder of the club's days as a freewheeling circus at Maine Road.
WHY HIM NOW?
Somewhere along the way, during a sapping spell at Liverpool and underwhelming second coming at Milan, the fun stopped. Manchester memories of wads of cash, piles of parking tickets and shopping trips for a trampoline and a Scalextric were replaced by more prosaic concerns.
Amid persistent injuries, lost form and rock-bottom confidence, Balotelli even started missing penalties. His two seasons at Nice under the shrewd Lucien Favre have been restorative and pretty prolific, with 43 goals, but the 27-year-old has not played international football since the 2014 World Cup. A rumoured move to Marseille could light the fuse on the fireworks again, for better or worse.
22 de enero 2019
|Thompson sets NBA record with 10 straight made three-pointers to open game|
|76ers hand Rockets largest loss of season, Harden scores 37 points|
|Tsitsipas overcomes Bautista Agut to continue Aus Open run|
|Barcelona move a ´dream come true´ for Boateng|
|Rams coach McVay on Gurley: I´ve got to get him more opportunities|
|Butler´s sprained wrist not expected to keep him out ´long term´|
|Saints owner Benson will ´aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies´|
|Levante to take Copa case to CAS|
|It can happen – Allegri plays down Ronaldo penalty miss|
|Mavericks´ Doncic becomes second-youngest player to record triple-double|
|Yankees send Sonny Gray to Reds|
|Ashley Cole reunited with Frank Lampard at Derby County|
|Arnold ready to mix things up in 2019 Asian Cup quarter-finals|
|Arum: Joshua desperately needs to fight in the United States|
21 de enero 2019
|South Korea v Bahrain: Bento optimistic of continuing unblemished campaign|
|Bolton Wanderers 0 West Brom 2: Baggies bounce up to third after tennis ball protest|
|Confident Moeen ready to shine for England in the Caribbean|
|Juventus 3 Chievo 0: Allegri´s men cruise despite Ronaldo penalty save|
|Boateng completes shock Barcelona switch|
|United Arab Emirates 3 Kyrgyzstan 2 (after extra time): Khalil penalty sets up Socceroos showdown|
|West Indies add Drakes to new-look coaching team|
|Barcelona is a huge opportunity – Boateng confirms shock move is close|
|Donnarumma wishes Higuain luck ahead of expected Chelsea switch|
|Qatar v Iraq: Katanec anticipating ´huge challenge´ in last 16|
|Nuno hit with FA misconduct charge for pitch celebration|
|Furious Carreno Busta and Zverev bow out, Djokovic marches on|
|#NotMartinFromWakefield – Siewert shows viral sensation the door|
|Djokovic feeling the strain after late-night Medvedev battle|
|Henderson sidelined again ahead of Six Nations|
|Australia 0 Uzbekistan 0 (aet, 4-2 on penalties): Ryan heroics see holders hobble onwards|
|Halep exit leaves four-way fight to be crowned number one at Australian Open|
|Super Bowl-bound Rams set for London return, Chiefs to face Chargers in Mexico|
|Huddersfield appoint Siewert as Wagner´s replacement|
|Genoa 0 AC Milan 2: Borini and Suso step up with Higuain left out|
|McTominay signs new Manchester United contract|
|Pizzi to stand down after Saudi Arabia elimination|
|Boateng closing in on shock Barcelona switch - reports|
|Catalans to defend Challenge Cup after resolving RFL dispute|
|Djokovic wears down Medvedev to reach last eight|
|Mouratoglou: I knew ´loyal´ Serena would not fire me after US Open turmoil|
|Barcelona B defender Wague accuses Ejea fans of racist abuse|
|I felt like I had been hit by a train - Halep upbeat despite losing Serena battle|
|Arsenal confirm Mislintat departure|
|Icardi will renew, 100 per cent - Wanda Nara offers latest Inter assurance|
|Japan 1 Saudi Arabia 0: Four-time winners send Pizzi´s men out|
|A souvlaki maybe named after him, a growing fan base – Tsitsipas creating Melbourne buzz|
|Barca winger Dembele out for 15 days|
|Strikers blown away by Hurricanes in Adelaide|
|Ireland lose Beirne for England and Scotland clashes|
|´Innate fighter´ Serena says character key to beating Halep|
|Hudson-Odoi ´an outstanding talent´ - Bayern great Ballack hails Chelsea youngster|
|Scotland call up four as hand injury forces Watson out|
|Serena comes through major Halep battle to reach last eight|
|Better than Rafa? Camacho cameo leaves Klopp unconvinced by transfer options|
|England job ´a privileged position´, says Southgate|
|Emery has confidence in Arsenal outcast Ozil|
|Zverev destroys racquet in Aus Open meltdown|
|From Villarreal to Aus Open quarters – Bautista Agut breaks major duck|
|Brees: I plan on being here next year and making another run at it|
|´Unf******-believable bro!´ - Brady stunned after reaching third straight Super Bowl|
|New England find answers, penalty costs Kansas City – three takeaways from Patriots´ win over Chiefs|
|Donald Trump congratulates Brady and Super Bowl-bound Patriots|
|Rose helps Timberwolves down Suns|
|Brady leads Patriots into third straight Super Bowl|
|Osaka overcomes Sevastova to reach quarters|
|Chelsea remain behind Sarri – David Luiz|
|McVay explains Gurley´s limited role in Rams´ win over Saints|
|Southgate hails ´tremendous talent´ Rashford|
|Long earns maiden PGA Tour win at Desert Classic|
|Flanagan resigns as Sharks head coach|