Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, yesterday took a swipe at the money-centred football culture in which players, such as his own full-back Wayne Bridge are, as he sees it, content to stay at the club on £90,000 a week with no prospect of a game.
Mancini, who marked two years as City manager this week, is yet to remove those remnants of the Mark Hughes regime whom he considers have no part to play at the Etihad Stadium, including the 31-year-old Bridge, whose only appearance for the club this season has been in the third round of the Carling Cup.
"Sometimes I don't understand why there are some players who have a good chance to play football, maybe not in the Premier League but in the Championship," said Mancini, who can steer City to top spot at Christmas for the first time since 1929 with a point at home to Stoke City tonight. "For a player it should be important to play football. I don't know why someone would want to stay at one club when they know they cannot play. When we are young and start to play football, we don't play for money. We play because we like football and every player should have this target in mind: play football.
"Wayne is a good guy but for every other player it should be important to play. Wayne has had two or three chances [to leave]. In the summer he had the chance to play for Celtic, and this is an important team. I don't know [what he does on Saturdays now]. Golf?"
Bridge, who was reluctant to leave for Celtic in the summer because he considers himself capable of operating at a higher level, privately considers himself to be as fit as ever and to his own mind he has always trained hard, whenever asked – even though he now finds himself drifting between the elite development and first-team squads.
Mancini effectively said he hoped Bridge would leave next month. "I hope," he said. "It's difficult for a player to stay here every day... then Saturday, no. When we are here he trains with us and sometimes he trains with the young players." Asked whether that was humbling for an individual who was playing for England as recently as November 2009, Mancini replied: "It's for this reason he should want to play. To stay here, I don't think that's easy."
Nigel de Jong, another of the players Mancini inherited from Hughes, is also unhappy, the Italian admitted, having fallen behind Gareth Barry in midfield. City are in no hurry to conclude contract negotiations after the Dutchman refused the terms put before him last summer. "I don't think he is happy," Mancini said. "The first two months [of the season] Nigel had an injury and couldn't play and after we played very well with Gareth and Yaya [Touré] in the middle. The player who is happy if he is not playing doesn't exist."
Yaya Touré's departure to the African Cup of Nations immediately after the FA Cup third-round tie with Manchester United on 8 January may give De Jong an opportunity. Mancini, who is optimistic that striker Edin Dzeko will have recovered from a knock sustained in training by tonight, also raised hopes that Owen Hargreaves would be fit by next month to compete for Touré's place. Micah Richards has shrugged off a slight hamstring strain to be fit for the visit of Stoke.
'Play now, pay later' plan for Tevez ruled out
Roberto Mancini has raised the prospect of Milan securing Carlos Tevez's services next month and delaying payment until the summer, provided they guarantee to buy him.
However, Manchester City later moved to reaffirm their position that the Argentine would not be released without money up front.
Mancini added: "I had a good relationship with Carlos and what's happened is really strange and frustrating for me.
"I have good behaviour with him, and I don't know what's happened to cause this.
"I hope we can find a solution. With Carlos in the squad, we were a better team, for sure."