Aston Villa's troubles on and off the pitch show no sign of coming to an end, with the news that two of the club's players have become involved in a heated exchange during a team-bonding exercise.
It is understood that the players had been drinking and, although there is no suggestion that punches were thrown, it is a measure of how seriously Villa view the incident that they have launched an internal investigation.
It is just about the last thing the club's manager, Gérard Houllier, needs at a time when Villa are in a relegation battle and when unrest among the club's supporters is festering, after the Frenchman's controversial decision to field a weakened team in an FA Cup fifth-round tie against Manchester City last week. Houllier has strong views on how players should conduct themselves and he will be particularly disappointed that two members of his squad have behaved so badly, especially at an event that was organised to boost morale.
With no fixture this weekend, Houllier decided to take the players away to a luxury hotel and spa in Leicestershire, in midweek, for a change of scenery and to improve team spirit. The players took part in a paintballing exercise during the day but in the evening things threatened to get out of hand when, after dinner and out of sight of the public, two of the squad became involved in a heated row.
A source said: "Two players who were pissed up had a frank exchange of views."
Houllier was present during the day but travelled to London, with Gary McAllister, his assistant, to watch Tottenham Hotspur play Milan in the Champions League in the evening. He was made aware of the confrontation, which the club will investigate before deciding whether to take disciplinary action.
"The club is aware that there has been an incident," a Villa spokesman said. "We have launched an investigation in line with our internal disciplinary procedures."
Villa have had several off-the-field issues this season. The striker John Carew, who is now on loan at Stoke, had a disagreement with Houllier in November; Richard Dunne clashed with McAllister on the training ground in December and was dropped from the starting team; and Stephen Ireland – currently on loan at Newcastle – Stephen Warnock and Habib Beye have also fallen out with Houllier.
Elsewhere Sunderland will offer the Egypt midfielder Ahmed Elmohamady a permanent deal at the end of the season. The 22-year-old has been on loan at the Stadium of Light since last summer.
"Ahmed has been a pleasure to have around the place since he joined us," said the Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce. "He's a great professional, has settled into the club and is keen to learn."
The West Ham midfielder Kieron Dyer has rejoined his first club, Ipswich Town, on loan for a month. Dyer has made 13 appearances for West Ham this season.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010