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City fear Dunne will leave in fury over Eriksson

Ian Herbert
Friday 02 May 2008 00:00 BST
Manchester City captain Richard Dunne out jumps Portsmouth's Papa Bouba Diop
Manchester City captain Richard Dunne out jumps Portsmouth's Papa Bouba Diop (AP)

Manchester City believe the prospect of losing their captain Richard Dunne is a genuine one amid a mass revolt among players over Thaksin Shinawatra's decision to sack the manager, Sven Goran Eriksson.

Dunne is arguably closer to Eriksson than any player in the City squad – the two share the same temperament and soft-spoken style – and the Irishman is known to have led attempts for players to sign a letter of protest threatening to boycott City's imminent end-of-season tour of the Far East.

Eriksson persuaded Dunne and others that, flattered though he was by their gesture, this was not an appropriate course of action to take and the tour will go ahead. But the future of one of the club's most consistent players now looks in severe jeopardy because he may find the prospect of lining Thaksin's pockets too unpalatable to go on.

Sources suggest that there has not yet been an approach from Newcastle for the player, contrary to some reports, but some at City fear "other clubs may try to capitalise" in his case.

As things stand, the departure of Dunne, who has just a year left to run on his current contract, is considered more likely than that of other players at the club, with reports already linking Michael Johnson with Arsenal and Micah Richards with Manchester United. But a wider exodus is quite possible.

City were looking every bit a crisis club last night and will invite direct comparisons with the sinking ship Liverpool have become under foreign ownership by this morning cancelling Eriksson's usual weekly press briefing. The club's reason is they do not want "a repeat of Rafa Benitez, with the manager fielding questions about the owner". Liverpool cancelled a Benitez press conference on 11 April after co-owner Tom Hicks had launched a verbal onslaught at chief executive Rick Parry.

Eriksson's agent Athole Still has not ruled out a move to Benfica. "The door is not closed for Benfica," Still told the Portuguese newspaper O Jogo. "The question of money is important. He is unlikely to continue, but it is still not 100 per cent certain that he will leave Manchester City."

The indignation of some players towards Thaksin was compounded when they learnt that video messages, recorded before Eriksson was told on Sunday that he was to be sacked, have been used by the Thai billionaire to promote the forthcoming club tour of the Far East and the new Manchester City superstore he is opening on the ground floor of his own office complex in Bangkok.

Joe Hart and Darius Vassell are among those whose video messages, played at a tour launch press conference on Tuesday, said how much they were looking forward to arriving in the Thai capital for a match against a Thai all-stars side on 14 May. That is not the feeling now and Thaksin, who enjoyed taking Daniel Sturridge and Casper Schmeichel with him on his return to Thailand after exile, may find players less compliant in the future.

The tour launch revealed what a farce Thaksin's ownership of the club has degenerated into. Thaksin left his son Panthongtae and daughter Pintongta, both installed by him as City board members, to field questions and when, inevitably, asked if Eriksson would lead the tour, Panthongtae froze, mumbled a "yes" then looked desperately to his sister for support. Both left the launch steadfastly refusing to answer questions by the foreign journalists who were in pursuit.

The Thai public has shown little interest in Thaksin's latest move at Eastlands, with the nation's press more wrapped up in the decision to fly a flag with Thaksin's name on it at City's ground for his arrival there last Saturday. In highly nationalistic Thailand it is considered disrespectful of the national flag to include a name on it and Thaksin is under fire for not having it taken down.

Sacking individuals is commonplace where Thaksin is concerned. A raft of top police and military officers have been removed from their postitions since the People Power Party, loyal to Thaksin, won December's elections in Thailand and many observers put this down to his influence. Eriksson has not offered the same threat to his political power base but he is considered equally dispensable.

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