Roberto Mancini has convened a team meeting to order his players to keep their criticism of him and each other within the walls of Manchester City, though a delay to Carlos Tevez's anticipated return from Argentina contributed last night to the sense that the manager is battling to hold his squad together.
Kolo Toure admitted yesterday that there were “problems” at the club, with Vincent Kompany and Emmanuel Adebayor the latest two players to row publicly at the weekend, and insisted that disputes must be resolved “in the dressing room and the training camp.“
Mancini, whose meeting will take place before the club depart for their Europa League assignment with Poland's Lech Posnan tomorrow, rejected any suggestion of internal strife as “rubbish” last night, while Gareth Barry insisted that that “there is a group of players working together, working hard and working for the manager, trying to do the right things.”
But it has also emerged that Tevez, who was allowed to fly to Argentina after sustaining a dead leg against Arsenal, has been judged unfit by his doctor to fly back because it might exacerbate the very same injury. Tevez, deemed ‘homsesick’ by his teammate Roque Santa Cruz last week, may be back on Thursday but no firm date has been set: there is no disguising the size of the task Mancini faces in instilling harmony.
There was a smile on Mancini’s face when, in a back corridor at White Hart Lane on the first afternoon of the season, he related who had won the battle which he, as a player, once waged with the Sampdoria manager Vujadin Boskov who kept him warming the substitutes’ bench. “They changed the manager,” Mancini recalled.
That anecdote is beginning to assume a rather dark irony as Mancini’s grip on some of the personalities in that over-staffed, over-paid squad appear so fragile. Harry Redknapp said on that August day in north London that “you can cause your own problems having too many players around” and that is only one part of the myriad management challenges he faces. In City, we see a group of players with huge pay and hugely differential pay, operating under a manager whose nurturing instincts are by no means the most refined. A recipe for disaster.
One of the new pieces of ‘evidence’ of a rocking ship – Yaya Toure’s immediate departure from Eastlands having been substituted during the half time interval of the 3-0 home defeat to Arsenal nine days ago – is quite what it seems. Mancini was concerned about Toure’s ankle seizing up and was happy for him to go home. But the decision to grant Carlos Tevez the same indulgence is something quite different.
Tevez is not due back from Argentina until Thursday, with the dead leg he sustained against Arsenal still causing him severe pain today, and though he is undergoing treatment at home, the club can ill afford this mini-break when the likelihood of him being fit to play Manchester United a week tomorrow are in the balance at best.
Tevez is being coddled; that much seemed apparent from the moment he was curiously bestowed with the City captaincy in August which ought to have been Vincent Kompany’s. Tevez’s interview with this newspaper and others last month – in which he challenged the club’s decision to release Craig Bellamy and the manager’s double training sessions – reflected the struggle Mancini is having to take him along. Tevez did not mention the Mancini habit of calling the players in for a morning training session, only to delay it until the afternoon, though that is another factor which some players are not happy about.
It is hard to believe there is any love lost where Tevez and Mancini are concerned. The manager’s insistence that his dressing room argument with Tevez when City after a drab first half against Newcastle last month weeks ago was all in a day’s work was highly unconvincing. A manager and his captain simply don’t go toe-to-toe in the dressing room, as they did that day.
But the dissent reaches further. Adam Johnson’s adverse reaction to being substituted against Liverpool in August did not go down well with a manager who believes Johnson needs to develop a modesty which makes him want to learn. A little more nurturing of Johnson might not go amiss, though there has been little evidence that this is part of the manager’s repertoire.
If Mancini’s relationship with his own recruits is challenging, then what hope with those he has inherited ? That with Shaun Wright-Phillips, on the fringes of the team, is strained. His own demands for parity with the high rollers is being waged more publicly by his father Ian Wright than the club would like. Emmanuel Adebayor has the salary but has lacked the opportunities, despite being allocated the City number 9 jersey this season in the hope that he would rise to the challenge.
All things in perspective: City are fourth in the Premier League. Less than two weeks have passed since United were the Manchester side who were in crisis, with Wayne Rooney’s far more public coup. Sir Alex Ferguson has a power base that Mancini lacks, though. And thought the assumption this season has been that City’s newly assembled side would eventually gel, that aspiration is based on properties of adhesion and harmony being present at the club. Instead City, with their breakneck pace of development, stand the greatest risk than any other club in the Premier League of it all unravelling.