Last updated : 02 May 2007 By Editor

This actually first broke on out main forum - now there's a first, but we'll give an account from the Times:

Joey Barton, the England mid-field player, may have played his last game for Manchester City after being suspended by the club until the end of the season in the wake of a training-ground fight that ended with Ousmane Dabo, his teammate, in hospital.

Witnesses claim that Barton punched Dabo several times after a confrontation during a training match that escalated out of hand after late challenges by each player on the other. Dabo was taken to hospital to be assessed and, while a scan dismissed fears that his jaw was broken, the club are furious with Barton over the incident.

Stuart Pearce, the manager, held an emergency meeting with John Wardle, the chairman, and Alistair Mackintosh, the chief executive, leading to a decision to suspend Barton from the training ground for the remainder of the season, ruling him out of their home derby match against Manchester United on Saturday and their final Barclays Premiership fixture, away to Totten-ham Hotspur, eight days later.

The incident raises serious questions about Barton's future at the club, given that he was widely perceived to have been on a "final warning" after a series of indiscretions, which included altercations with Richard Dunne, the defender, and Jamie Tandy, a reserve-team player, who has since left the club. The Tandy incident, in which Barton stubbed a cigar in the face of his teammate at the club's Christmas party in 2004, earned him particular notoriety.

Barton's agent, Willie McKay, attempted to play down the episode last night, suggesting that Dabo, whom he also represents, was also culpable and that it "suited" the club to paint Barton as the guilty party. "This kind of thing happens every day on every training ground in the country," McKay said. "It's only because it's Joey Barton that it makes big headlines. Maybe it suits Manchester City that way." McKay was referring to the ill-feeling caused by an interview Barton gave two weeks ago in which he voiced his frustration at the club's performances this season and at the impact made by last summer's signings, including Dabo.

However, McKay's conspiracy theory appears to be contradicted by the political climate at the City of Manchester Stadium - which, with a takeover bid by Thaksin Shina-watra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, imminent, leaves Pearce with a bleak future - and by the fact that it is only Barton's image, as opposed to his ability on the pitch, that leaves them with a decision to make over his future.