Manchester City's Patrick Vieira has re-opened the verbal warfare with Sir Alex Ferguson which his club's manager Roberto Mancini is so desperate to avoid, by declaring that Manchester United are given an unfair advantage by referees.
Vieira, right, equipped Ferguson with ammunition eight days ago by claiming that the return of Paul Scholes to United's side was a sign of "weakness" and though there were signs after Ferguson declared City's recall of Carlos Tevez as even more "desperate" that Mancini and his assistants did not welcome the distraction, Vieira ploughed in again yesterday.
"When United play at home they get some advantage other teams don't get," City's football development executive told the BBC. "When you go to United, Madrid, Barcelona, or Milan, when the referees referee these kind of games, it's always difficult to go against these kinds of teams. This is the way it is."
But a sense of how desperate City and Mancini are to avoid the distraction of an off-field conflict with United and their manager emerged last night when Vieira issued an excoriating statement accusing the BBC reporter Dan Roan of taking his comments out of context, in a "serious and cynical" attempt to misrepresent him.
Vieira, who spoke to the BBC on behalf of the Football Against Hunger charity, said: "I made it clear in the interview twice that I wanted to avoid criticising United and even stated that I didn't watch the United game against Fulham and had not seen the incident to which the reporter referred. That part of the interview was ignored and my comments were taken completely out of context. I called the reporter twice to ask for a retraction and an apology which has not come."
Ferguson may still respond today at his weekly press conference to comments which appear to have roots in the strong 89th-minute penalty claim from Fulham's Danny Murphy which referee Michael Oliver turned down – allowing United to open a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Monday night.
Vieira was bullish about City's prospects: " We've been the best team and played the best football. The club deserves it. [But] being first is an advantage, so they are favourites."
The former Liverpoolmanager Rafael Benitez said yesterday that "mind games" do not win titles. "It depends on the players more than the managers. The good thing is just to concentrate on your team," he added.
Mancini had a pitch-side altercation with Mario Balotelli at Carrington yesterday as he welcomed back Vincent Kompany to training. Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves played for the reserves at Morecambe last night.Reuse content