Mancini calls for harmony
'Cityitis' strikes again as Italian boss tells players to keep criticism of regime indoors
ROBERTO MANCINI will order his players to keep their criticism of him and each other within the walls of Manchester City, at a team meeting he has convened ahead of the trip to face Lech Poznan of Poland in the Europa League.
Kolo Toure admitted yesterday that there were "problems" at the club, with Vincent Kompany and Emmanuel Adebayor the latest players to row publicly at the weekend, and insisted that disputes must be resolved "in the dressing-room and the training camp".
Mancini appeared to be in denial of the internal strife that has beset his club by describing any suggestion of it as "rubbish" last night, but has called a team meeting on this subject once before this season and there's no disguising the size of the task he 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 a story about who had won when he, as a player, had waged war with the Sampdoria boss who kept him on the 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 his over-staffed, over-paid squad appears so fragile. At 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 at half-time in the 3-0 home defeat to Arsenal nine days ago -- isn't 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 due back in Manchester today after several days in Argentina and is due to begin treatment on a dead leg, but the club could not really afford the mini-break as the likelihood of him being fit to play Manchester United a week tomorrow is still in the balance.
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 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 get into the details of Mancini's habit of calling the players in for a morning training session, only to delay it until the afternoon, though that is another factor about which some players are unhappy.
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 after a drab first half against Newcastle last month 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. A little more nurturing might not go amiss in Johnson's case, though there has been little evidence that this is part of the manager's repertoire.
At least Gareth Barry has apologised to Mancini for his involvement in a drinking session last week which prompted the manager to warn of internal punishment should such incidents be repeated.
Barry, one of four players along with Johnson, Joe Hart and Shay Given caught on video drinking at a student party in Scotland last Monday, issued his apology on the club's website last night before backing Mancini.
He said: "I regret that (video), it was naive of me. It shouldn't have happened. I have apologised to the manager. We were in the wrong. The truth is that there is a group of players working together, working hard and working for the manager, trying to do the right things."
Had Mancini researched his role before replacing Mark Hughes last December, he would have quickly discovered that every City manager of the last 20 years has been cursed by disenfranchised foot soldiers loyal to the previous regime or, in some cases, the one before that. Consultation with Hughes, Joe Royle or Frank Clark would also have led to Mancini being made aware of the club's peerless ability to be the victim of its own mischief-making.
Clark even talked of a 'fifth column' destabilising the club from within during his troubled reign a decade ago. Eleven years on, Mancini is learning that 'Cityitis' (as it was referred to by Royle) is as debilitating as ever. Just last week, rumours of Mancini sacking a member of the club's medical staff spread before being dismissed out of hand by club officials.
Hence Mancini's determination to plug the leaks, which will be enforced to his players prior to tomorrow's trip to Poland for the Europa League clash with Lech Poznan.
If Mancini's relationship with his own recruits is challenging, then what hope with those he has inherited? Dealings with Shaun Wright-Phillips, on the fringes of the team, are strained. Emmanuel Adebayor has the salary but has lacked the chances, despite being allocated the No 9 jersey in the hope that he would rise to the challenge.
Mancini is not in unchartered territory. This time last year, Hughes was also at war with his predecessor's players: the recalcitrant Brazilian clique of Elano, Robinho and Jo. Hughes paid with his job but then, as now, the solution lies beyond emergency team meetings -- out on the pitch.
The general assumption has always been that City's newly assembled side would gel, though that aspiration is based on a state of harmony. But City, with their breakneck pace of development, are the club at greater risk of falling apart than any other in the Premier League. (© Independent News Service)