“A return of two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set. Sheikh Mansour and the board felt that there was no evidence that the situation would fundamentally change.” And with that, Mark Hughes was gone.
Manchester City sacked Hughes despite the Welshman lifting the Blues to sixth, well on course for the stated goal of Europa League football at the least this term. While City’s league position does not tell the whole story of their season so far, Hughes was always diligent in his approach to work at Eastlands and his team had begun to show signs of being ready to make an assault on the top four, but evidently the City hierarchy disagreed and moved former Inter Milan boss Roberto Mancini into the manager’s office. Rumours Mancini had been lined up for the job for weeks emerged in the aftermath of the Italian’s appointment, and that was just one of the many unsavoury tales surrounding the whole affair.
Hughes’ departure has led to all manner of stories leaking out of Eastlands, including player revolts, divisions within the camp and even the richest club in the world being lent money by their former manager to complete the signing of Craig Bellamy. The Sun reported that Hughes gave City £250,000 of his own money after being told by chief executive Garry Cook the move was about to collapse. Bellamy, City’s player of the season so far, was said to be amongst the group of players looking for answers over the weekend regarding the treatment of Hughes and more than one newspaper believes Bellamy will hand in a transfer request soon. The money-lending whisper may be false, but given the duplicitous nature of City’s top brass over the Hughes sacking saga, it would not be a shock to learn it was accurate.
It is the right of the owners of Manchester City to make a change if they so desire, but the manner the termination of Hughes and the appointment of Mancini was conducted left a bitter taste. To have Mancini in the stadium, ready to pounce as City battled to a 4-3 victory over Sunderland was a shocking lack of respect shown to Hughes, a man who often remained stoic as City’s situation grew more farcical, never more so than this time last year when Cook publicly courted Kaka. Cook chased Kaka hard, only to lambast the Brazilian and his then employers AC Milan when the move broke down. The arrogance shown in the aftermath when Kaka stayed in Italy eroded much of the good will the Blues could previously boast as a likeable club, known for their strong, passionate and knowledgeable support. The support remains, but those charged with overseeing City have demolished the team’s reputation as they attempt to build the squad. Hughes may be a polarising figure at times, and his fiery, brash personality may occasionally grate, but when compared to the ingratiating Cook, Hughes appears practically virtuous.
Whatever your views on the former Wales boss, he certainly deserved better treatment than he received from Cook and chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. Cook is the public face of City’s successes and failures, but Al Mubarak makes the decisions and it was he who brought Robinho to Manchester and spearheaded the attempts to sign Kaka, both times undermining Hughes and making his job more difficult. Hughes’ best purchases were of Bellamy and Shay Given, experienced players with great knowledge of the Premier League, while of the summer recruits to Eastlands, Gareth Barry has been the most successful. Cook and Al Mubarak favoured names the calibre of Kaka and Robinho, regardless of their suitability for what Hughes was trying to accomplish.
In the furore over the sacking of Hughes, it should not be forgotten that the ex-Wales boss had not been a total success at City since leaving Blackburn Rovers in 2008. But having been told in May this year that he needed to achieve a top-six finish, and being fired despite retaining an excellent chance of doing just that, much of what went wrong this season has been expunged. Shoddy defending and an inability to hold onto a lead paved the way for Hughes to be kicked out. Performances lately ranged from sublime, against Chelsea, to ridiculous, against Tottenham Hotspur. City need consistency now, and not just on the pitch. If City feel Mancini is the man to provide that, he has to be given the time to do so.