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Sep 16, 2009

Adebayor's folly to derail Hughes' masterplan?

It was just after 10 o'clock on Friday morning when Mark Hughes drove through the gates of Manchester City's training headquarters. Carrington was bathed in September sunshine but already the dark clouds were beginning to gather over City's faultless start to the new Premier League season.

News of Carlos Tevez's knee injury was not good. The striker had stayed at home following Argentina's World Cup qualifying defeat to Brazil amid fears the long-haul flight would hinder his recovery, and Tevez's chances of playing against his old club Manchester United in this weekend's Old Trafford derby were beginning to look bleak.

Robinho did make the journey back from South America, but Hughes was about to discover that the ankle injury his Brazilian star had aggravated in the same game was in fact a stress fracture that would keep him out of action for up to a month.

And then there was Emmanuel Adebayor calmly lighting a fire under the most explosive encounter of the season so far.

When he was first unveiled as a City player on the club's pre-season trip to South Africa in the summer, Adebayor went on record as saying Arsenal's fans drove him out of the Emirates. He raked up the allegations in a video interview which appeared on the club's website on Thursday, claiming their hatred would haunt him until his dying day.

Mission accomplished, he then granted a one-on-one interview to a national newspaper on Friday, revealing the origins of his dressing-room feud with Nicklas Bendtner. It began with a row over a pair of shoes and escalated to the point where Adebayor headbutted his team-mate during a Carling Cup tie against Tottenham.

What happened when the Togo striker went head-to-head - or in the case of Robin van Persie, boot to face - with his old chums from North London at Eastlands 24 hours later has been well documented.

Suffice to say, if you give the world advance warning that you have a grievance with your old club's supporters and then charge the full length of the field like a maniac to incite them into a starting a minor riot, any claims that you acted in the heat of the moment are somewhat redundant.

Whatever the provocation from Arsenal's players and supporters, Adebayor deserves the ban he will get for injuring Van Persie.

Of far greater importance is the knock-on effect it could have on Manchester City's season. Hughes' team have gelled remarkably well following another multi-million pound spending spree in the summer and were starting to look the sum of their parts a lot faster than most of us had expected.

Even though skittling Blackburn, Wolves and Portsmouth without conceding a goal was hardly likely to have the rest of the Premier League cowering in terror, the dismantling of Arsene Wenger's men has made us all sit up and take notice. City's 4-2 victory was even more impressive considering they achieved it without almost £60 million-worth of attacking talent in Tevez and Robinho (although that figure might be substantially more depending on who you believe).

Now that Adebayor has joined them on the sidelines, just how costly will his private vendetta against Arsenal prove to be? The ideal candidate to replace him, Roque Santa Cruz, only returned to training this week having yet to kick a ball in anger since his move from Blackburn.

Who would have thought when Hughes signed Tevez, Adebayor and Santa Cruz in the summer, sparking debates over how he would fit them in alongside Robinho and keep all his strikers happy, that not a single one of them would be fit for the most eagerly-anticipated Manchester derby of recent times barely a month into the new season?

And how silly all the childish bickering over that Tevez billboard in Manchester city centre seems now considering the man himself is almost certain to miss out on a return to Old Trafford where he made a such a public statement after scoring for United against City in May.

Having spent much of last season without a recognised target man - a problem that was meant to be solved by the arrival of Adebayor and Santa Cruz - Hughes is now expected to ask Craig Bellamy to lead the line on Sunday.

It is not even as though the City boss can call on Felipe Caicedo, Darius Vassell or Ched Evans, who were all offloaded to make way for the shiny new stock.

Benjani would have followed them out of the door were it not for work permit issues caused by his Zimbabwean nationality. He has gone downhill since scoring on his debut against United at Old Trafford in February 2008, but you cannot discount the possibility of his name returning to the teamsheet among City's substitutes.

What would Hughes give to have Adebayor spearheading his attack this weekend? A striker he rated among the best in world football last Friday, before the 25-year-old scored his fourth Premier League goal in as many games with a flick of his head only to undo all the good work with a rake of his right boot down Van Persie's cheek.

City can still win without him at Old Trafford, of course. And without Tevez and Robinho too. With West Ham, Aston Villa, Wigan, Fulham, Birmingham, and Burnley to come in their following six Premier League games against, who's to say we won't be sat here in mid-November admiring Hughes' unbeaten record and wondering what all the fuss was about?

But teams need momentum. Players thrive on confidence. And just when City wanted one of their marquee men to beat United at their own game and sprinkle a little stardust over the Manchester derby, they are nowhere to be seen.

If Adebayor's ill-advised and spectacularly badly-timed antics against his old club halt his new one in full flight, Van Persie won't be the only one claiming he's been kicked where it hurts.

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