Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager threw Chelsea's complaints about the perceived "tapping up" of captain John Terry back at the London club yesterday, insisting that it was they who decided to go public on City's £30m bid in the first place.
Hughes is experiencing frustrations in his attempts to develop his best formation for the start of the Premier League season on 15 August, with Carlos Tevez nursing a bruised heel which prevented him training until last night and rules him out of City's encounter with Kaizer Chiefs at the Kings Park Stadium here this evening. Suggestions that Chelsea have a case against City to put to the Premier League have not best pleased him either, though the League indicated at the weekend that there was not one to answer.
Hughes, who is quite prepared for a period of silence from the Terry camp while the England captain weighs up his future while with Chelsea on tour in the United States, insisted that Chelsea's decision to go public on City's £30m bid, when the story broke on the night of 2 July, destroyed their dignified efforts to keep discussions "under the radar".
Hughes, who publicly intimated last week that Terry might be going stale at Stamford Bridge and in need of a new challenge, insisted City "didn't make a big play about the fact we were going to go in". He declared: "I think it was Chelsea themselves. They obviously wanted that to be put into the public domain and ever since that I've been answering questions about John Terry and my thoughts about him. That's all I've done and I don't think that's a basis to report myself or Manchester City."
At least Hughes' focus in the transfer market is narrowing down. The search is exclusively for defenders now, with no pursuit of midfielders to go with the £12m Gareth Barry, who is expected to make his debut this evening, and Hughes hopes that Joleon Lescott will ask Everton for the chance to speak to City.
The problem Hughes faces is the limited time left to calculate who operates best with whom. Since Emmanuel Adebayor did not sign until last Saturday – negotiations on the sum of money due to his agent are understood to have contributed to the delay – the Togo international will not join the squad in South Africa until today. "We'll see what condition he is in when he arrives and then I can make a decision as regards whether he is available for the weekend," Hughes said. Tevez did not seem in any pain as he trained last night but he, too, seems destined for a relatively fleeting role in the same match in Johannesburg this weekend.
With Roque Santa Cruz also recuperating from his knee operation and Robinho not due here until Friday, after his extended break following Confederations Cup duties, Hughes hardly finds himself blessed with the scope for experimentation that Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson is finding in the Far East. The three friendlies against Barnsley, Rangers and Celtic when City return are assuming more significance.
Hughes rejects suggestions that it may be well into the season before he finally gets the measure of which of his 10 strikers – if all remain at Eastlands – work best together.
"It's about getting an understanding as to how each and every striker I have available works in tandem; not only with their strike partners but their team-mates," Hughes said. "That takes time. But I would not suggest it takes to the second half of the season to have a better understanding of who works better with whom. I think very quickly you can get any idea of the qualities that gel better than others."
But the waiting game is frustrating. One of the billboards Hughes and his players passed on the drive up from Durban's airport states, "The hunt for glory begins." It relates to South Africa's Test series with the British Lions, rather than much of the exploration work Hughes might not have anticipated carrying out on tour.