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Undone by the grassy knoll

What a difference a few miles – and a landscape architect with foresight – can make.

Mario Balotelli's camouflaged Bentley can't disguise the inner-club turmoil Photograph:PA
Mario Balotelli's camouflaged Bentley can't disguise the inner-club turmoil Photograph:PA

City and United both built training grounds in the village of Carrington on the outskirts of Manchester. One of these is about as mysterious and off-limits as Area 51, even finding it on GoogleMaps is tricky. The other has a public right-of-way bisecting it, one which, despite the club's efforts to erect screens, turns every training session into the kind of reality TV you get when Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian breeze into Miami.

No prizes for guessing which of the two belongs to City.

They are building a new state-of-the-art facility which, presumably, will offer a modicum of privacy, but, in the interim, they remain in their goldfish bowl.

Which is why you get the back- page headlines like the ones we got last week highlighting in full, glorious technicolour the "fight" between manager Roberto Mancini and his resident enigma Mario Balotelli.

"It's nothing," Mancini said the next day, referring to the fact that he bellowed in Balotelli's face after a tackle on Scott Sinclair and then tried to physically drag him away, with little success. "It can happen in training, it's normal."

Hey, maybe it is – almost – normal. Maybe it does happen at the red place up the country lane as well. After all, you presume that Sir Alex Ferguson did not get the "hairdryer" moniker because of his coiffure habits. But when (if?) it happens at Manchester United, it's the proverbial tree falling in the forest.

We don't find out about it so we don't speculate about the future of X, Y and Z, who fell out with who and their respective modes of transport (a racing bike and a camouflaged Bentley, as it happens).

City naturally tried to play down what happened on Thursday. No reason to admit Mancini lost his rag and no reason to depress Balotelli's value as an asset even further. Either way, they will be glad when they move into their new training centre and will no longer have to deal with this nonsense in public.

Perhaps the most intrig-uing January transfer this far is Daniel Sturridge's £12 million move to Liverpool. On paper, it's an eyebrow raiser. Sturridge is fast, a good finisher and technically solid, but three of the last four Chelsea managers – guys who, between them, won four Champions Leagues – could not find a spot for him in the line-up. And the one guy who did, Andre Villas-Boas, not only squeezed him in out wide, a position he has said he does not want to play, but also had the worst record of the four.

Throw in the fact that Sturridge – rightly or wrong – comes with a reputation as a "bad egg" who had been at four different clubs by the time he turned 20 and you wonder about Brendan Rodgers' logic in bringing him on board.

Then you hear about how Rodgers is planning on disassembling his line-up to accommodate Sturridge, shifting Luis Suarez – arguably his best player and the man who has scored nearly half of the Reds' league goals this season – out to the wing.

"I don't see Luis Suarez staying in the middle," Rodgers said. "His strength is on the move, but if you do that you need someone in the box. He's so creative, but there's no one to pull the ball back to."

Suarez has played in wide roles before, for Ajax and for Uruguay, but that was a while back. And that was in a very different 4-3-3 from the one Rodgers likes to employ, one predicated on a different kind of movement.

He is not a traditional centre-forward – no question about that – and, in fact, he is probably not ideally suited to 4-3-3 at all. But he has been extremely productive up front.

Ordinarily, clubs build around their best players. Rodgers is ripping up the blueprint and trying to come up with another one, while presumably sticking to his trademark possession-based philosophy. It's a big task, especially in mid-season. You can only conclude that he is convinced that Sturridge is worth it, perhaps because he has matured and evolved. And that, equally, Suarez is happy to adapt his style and turn into a winger.

It is an unconventional move and one that seems surprising especially now Liverpool are on a mini-run, having won five of their past seven league games. Then again, Rodgers wears his lack of convention on his sleeve.

THE Special One will not be attending the Fifa Ballon d'Or ceremony tomorrow night. "I have work to do," said Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho. "We have a cup game on Wednesday." Naturally, the Spanish media have jumped all over this story. Those – not that many, to be fair – who still back Mourinho see it as evidence of his tremendous professionalism. Those who don't see it as a slap in the face to the award. He knows he is not going to win it, he knows his guy – Cristiano Ronaldo – won't win it, why bother showing up?

It is probably a bit of both. Mourinho likes having his ego stroked as much as the next guy (possibly a bit more, in fact), yet at the same time the Copa del Rey fixture against Celta Vigo is not to be taken lightly. Madrid lost the first leg against their relegation-threatened opponents, 2-1. Turning matters around at the Bernabeu ought to be straightforward, but there is plenty at stake right now.

Getting dumped out of the Spanish Cup would be disastrous, not least because, with the last-16 showdown against Manchester United on the horizon in the Champions League, it could mean Real Madrid have nothing left to play for as of March 5, which would make the rest of the season the longest 12 weeks of Mourinho's life.

Throw in the situation with Iker Casillas (who was dropped in Real's last outing before the break), the fact that Ronaldo's contract extension negotiations have stalled, that 16-point deficit between Real and Barcelona and doubts over Mourinho's own future at the Bernabeu and you can see why, yes, he might just be otherwise preoccupied.

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