Manchester City's image as a club wracked by player disputes was done no favours on the eve of tonight's vital visit to Arsenal when Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor became the latest players to square up on the training ground.
City insisted last night that the dispute was all in the course of another competitive training session but the headlock between the two, who both left the Emirates for Eastlands in the summer of 2009, reveals Mancini's demand that disputes take place behind closed is still not being heeded.
Since neither Adebayor nor Toure are currently in the City team — both were omitted from the squad for the New Year's Day win against Blackpool — frustration may have played its part in the latest tussle on the pitch, unhelpfully positioned within full view of a public right of way, where Mario Balotelli and Jerome Boateng had to be pulled apart by Mancini last month.
Adebayor, currently recovering from a heel injury, did feature briefly in the discussion of City's prospects undertaken by Mancini.
Mancini also said Dzeko's arrival did not marginalize Balotelli, “Every club needs three good strikers,” he said. “Now we have Mario, Tevez, Adebayor, these players are good players. We always [expect] Tevez to score in every game but it is impossible. Adebayor was injured for one month and he not right yet.”
City needed a sense of calm heading to a club who they have not beaten away for 35 years, with neither David Silva nor Balotelli fit to play a part. Mancini attempted to put the pressure on Arsene Wenger's side as he cited them as title candidates and keep City out of the equation.
“It is possible that Arsenal can win the title. I think every year Arsenal can win the title, like United and Chelsea. Arsenal are one of the big teams in England,” he said.
Dzeko should be a City player by the end of the week but will probably not be available until the Premier League game with Wolves on January 15.
He and Tevez will become City's first choice strike combination, though Mancini played down the idea of two as a traditional big man- small-man strike partnership.
“It is not important, this, it is important [only that] they play football,” Mancini said. “Dzeko has all the qualities a striker should have; he is good in the air, has good technique, is quick, is strong, tall, scores goals, in the last few years he scored a lot of goals. He has experience.”
Mancini said for the first time yesterday that he believed City are one of the cluster five teams who might take the title.
“When you start the season you can have problems,” he said. “Chelsea started the season and won six games in a row and now have difficulties,” he said.
“We had a problem at the start but it is better to have a problem at the start of the season. You have time to recover, to improve.”
Meanwhile, Wenger said yesterday that Manchester City are engaging in risk free transfer spending ahead of tonight's match.
Commenting on the proposed deal for Dzeko, Wenger said that while the fee would represent a gamble for other less well resourced clubs, City's wealth means that it is a safe move for them.
“You look at the number of players who cost £20m who do not even get on the bench at Man City, and £27m is not a risk,” Wenger said.
“It is a risk for me, not for them. The risk is linked — if you have £100 in your pocket and you put £90 on a blackjack table you take a risk. If you have £5m in your pocket and put £90 on a blackjack table it is not a risk. The risk is linked with the amount of money you have in your pocket, so £27m is not a risk for Man City.”
Even then, Wenger described the agreed fee as a “sales price” for a player about whom he was very complimentary. He admitted a previous interest in signing Dzeko, during his first season after joining Wolfsburg from Czech side Teplice, but said that he was “too expensive” at the time.
Wenger failed to deny suggestions that he had previously rejected an approach to manage Manchester City. When asked, he said “that is certainly not a thing that I want to speak about the
day before the game. I never came out with who wanted to sign me, and I will never tell you because it's disrespectful to the people who are in charge.”
Meanwhile, Mancini said that he doubted that City have the necessary experience to maintain a title challenge.
“The other teams are more used to staying there long term,” acknowledged Mancini. “That's normal. For us it is to important to try to win every game against every team. We must continue to win and to improve, this must be our target. But this year is strange. Last year, only three teams could win the title. This year, there are five. It is good for supporters, for us. Every week the situation can change at the top. At the moment (Manchester) United have two games in hand but things can change very quickly. Yet Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Tottenham have more experience that us to win a title, but we want to stay there. We want to improve and to win our next game.”