Ah, Christmas. A time for good cheer, peace to all men (and women, I guess), and the birth of the tiny baby Commercialism. And then along comes Scrooge, in the form of Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini.
Here’s his festive gift for City’s expensive Italian striker Mario Balotelli after a distinctly average display in Monday’s shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Everton.
"If Mario deserves to play he will play. If he doesn't deserve to play he doesn't play. If Mario doesn't work, he doesn't play.
"It's not important Mario has a good technique and is a good player. If we want to improve we need everybody giving 200 per cent.
"Mario is a special player but you have to put strength and heart into your performances."
Poor old super Mario. He left Inter Milan under a bit of a cloud. His Ghanaian parents claim he was snatched away from them, given a new surname and now their beloved 20-year-old never contacts them. The San Siro fans gave him a right pelting. Italian fans resent their first black international. The £24m move to Eastlands was supposed to be his salvation.
Now, with Carlos Tevez apparently forgiving and forgetting his much-hyped transfer request, Balotelli finds himself armed on with a cushion as he heads for Newcastle’s St James’s Park on Boxing Day. A place on the bench is the best he can hope for.
But hold on. When Tevez was sulking and arguing with Mancini, it was Balotelli who took the strain. He’s got five goals in nine games so far. While Brazilian misfit Jo and former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor look anything but devoted to the cause, Balotelli has taken a red card and a lot of flak trying to keep Sheikh Mansour’s overpaid mercenaries up among the contenders.
Mancini, a scarf-wearing paragon of fashion who probably suggested the snood neck-warmer to his players when winter set in, adds: "Mario must improve his situation and smile. I do not know why he does not look happy. Manchester is not like Milan but he has to accept it."
Hold on, hold on. Does Milan have a Piccadilly Christmas Fair? A Spinningsfields Ice Rink? A fireworks display on New Year’s night? Hah!
What’s Mancini saying? He first came across Balotelli at Inter. Did he bring him to a barren British northern metropolis without deep thought? Snow joke you know. Mancini insists: "I do have a good relationship with Mario but he must play well, must work hard every day, like the other players."
So Patrick Vieira’s working hard is he? And Gareth Barry, James Milner, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips? They’re all happy? Craig Bellamy decamped to Cardiff because he was ecstatic? Yaya Toure drove off at half-time during the defeat against Arsenal because he was loving every moment?
The expensively assembled glut of galacticos don’t click like clockwork, let’s face it. How about Tevez? Any sign of a word with the fans after his transfer request saga, Roberto?
Mancini mumbles: "I don't know. Maybe he should apologise. It is now important Carlos plays well and scores goals. But the fans still love him."
Ho, ho, ho Mr Mancini. The second half of Manchester City’s season will be a fascinating rollercoaster ride. And somehow, I can’t see the dapper little Italian surviving until the summer.
Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. And a Merry Christmas to you all. Good night.