Manchester City's image as a club racked by player disputes was done no favours on the eve of tonight's vital visit to Arsenal when Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor became the latest players to square up on the training ground.
As manager Roberto Mancini confirmed that City have agreed a £27m fee for Wolfsburg's Edin Dzeko – a deal which leaves Adebayor another step closer to the exit – he and Touré clashed after an exchange of words. City insisted last night that the dispute was all in the course of another competitive training session but the headlock between the two, who both left the Emirates for Eastlands in the summer of 2009, reveals Mancini's demand that disputes must take place behind closed doors is still not being heeded.
Since neither Adebayor nor Touré are currently in the City team – both were omitted from the squad for the New Year's Day win against Blackpool – frustration may have played its part in the latest tussle on the pitch, unhelpfully positioned within full view of a public right of way, where Mario Balotelli and Jerome Boateng had to be pulled apart by Mancini last month.
Adebayor, currently recovering from a heel injury, did feature briefly yesterday in the discussion of City's prospects undertaken by Mancini, who said that he did not think the club would be bidding for Benfica's defender David Luiz. Mancini also said Dzeko's arrival would not marginalise Balotelli: "Every club needs three good strikers. Now we have Mario, Tevez, Adebayor, these are good players. We always [expect] Tevez to score but it is impossible. Adebayor was injured for one month and he is not right yet."
City needed a sense of calm heading to a club whom they have not beaten away for 35 years, with neither David Silva nor Balotelli fit to play a part. Mancini attempted to put the pressure on Arsène Wenger's side as he cited them as title candidates and kept City out of the equation. "It is possible that Arsenal win the title. I think every year Arsenal can win the title, like United and Chelsea. Arsenal are one of the big teams in England," he said.
Dzeko should be a City player by the end of the week but will probably not be available until the Premier League game with Wolves on 15 January. He and Tevez will become City's first-choice strike combination, though Mancini played down the idea of the two players operating as a traditional big man-small man forward partnership.
"It is not important, this, it is important [only that] they play football," Mancini said. "Dzeko has all the qualities a striker should have; he is good in the air, has good technique, is quick, is strong, tall, scores goals, in the last few years he scored a lot of goals. He has experience."
Mancini said for the first time yesterday that he believed City are one of the cluster of five teams who might take the title. "When you start the season you can have problems," he said. "Chelsea started the season and won six games in a row and now have difficulties," he said. "We had a problem at the start but it is better to have a problem at the start of the season. You have time to recover, to improve."
He does not seem intent on taking the Adebayor-Touré spat any further, despite the embarrassment of it following James Milner's tunnel clash with Yaya Touré at Eastlands in October and the heated on-pitch row between Adebayor and Vincent Kompany which came during the defeat at Wolves in the next match in October. A City spokesman said of the training ground incident: "There was an incident but it was nothing different to what goes on at all clubs. Training carried on and they [Touré and Adebayor] shook hands afterwards."