They're England's best soccer team. But as they end their first week at an Austrian training camp, Manchester City is down 0-1 in the battle of the bells against a priest whose early church chimes are waking squad members.
Man City, the English Premier League champions for the first time in 44 years, is spending thousands on the 12-day exercise in the Tyrolean village of Seefeld. It wants the players to train hard and rest well.
It reportedly flew in special mattresses from Rome at a cost of $1,200 each. With a population of just over 3,000 people and stunning mountain vistas, Seefeld is a bastion of tranquility where there is little to do after training but relax.
The players' hotel - a former monastery - is attached to the medieval St. Oswald's Church, which rings its bell at 7 a.m. each morning. The consequences are predictable.
''Yes, they are loud,'' said hotel owner Alois Seyrling in a telephone call. He suggested the chimes added to the local charm.
The team doesn't think so.
Austria's daily Heute newspaper cited coach Roberto Mancini complaining that the bell is keeping the players from getting enough sleep. A team official who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the issue told The Associated Press Friday that an advance team scoping out the site had requested that it be either be stilled or rung later.
But St. Oswald's priest Egon Pfeifer says he was never directly contacted by the club, adding he first heard of the problem from an Austrian reporter.
In any case, he says the bells will continue ringing ''even if the queen of England wants them to stop.''
Ringing the bells for the early call to prayer is an ancient tradition, Pfeifer said on the telephone. ''I think the bells are acceptable to everyone, and should be acceptable to football players as well.''
And so, the bell keeps ringing. But Seyrling, the hotel owner, suggests a meeting between Pfeifer and squad members to ease tensions.
''Perhaps if he gets an autograph, he'll stop for a few days,'' British media cite him as saying.