Mancini: Balotelli must earn his place

Salisbury Journal: Mario Balotelli has scored just one Barclays Premier League goal in an indifferent season Mario Balotelli has scored just one Barclays Premier League goal in an indifferent season

Roberto Mancini is adamant Mario Balotelli is staying at Manchester City but has warned the striker he must win back a place in the side.

Balotelli has been the subject of persistent speculation linking him with AC Milan throughout this month's transfer window, but City boss Mancini has maintained that the controversial forward will not be leaving. Now Mancini has challenged his fellow Italian to battle back to form and justify his faith.

Mancini said: "First of all Mario should work well and try to get his place in the team. At the moment he doesn't have that, for many reasons. I hope he can help us to win some trophies because he has quality."

He added: "Until today, his performances were so-so. But at the same time he can improve. Maybe in the next four months we could have crucial games for Premier League, FA Cup. I hope Mario can help the team to win games."

Balotelli, 22, has not started for City since their defeat by Manchester United on December 9. He was dropped for the subsequent match at Newcastle and was then kept out for the following four games by a virus.

He was then involved in a much-publicised training-ground bust-up with Mancini, which reignited speculation he could leave, but the manager again forgave the often errant player.

There have been two substitute appearances in January but, having been hit by another virus, he is again only likely to be on the bench for this weekend's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Stoke.

Mancini's confidence in Balotelli remains intact and he is wearying of the constant noises coming out of Milan about a possible move to the San Siro.

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has issued regular statements suggesting his club are interested, but City should lower their reported £28million valuation.

Mancini is dismissive of that and of fresh reports that Milan have now made a bid to sign Balotelli on loan, but he said: "No, it is not true, Mario stays here. We didn't have any requests about Mario or other players."

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