The only surprise is that’s it taken so long for the Abu Dhabi United Group to relieve Hughes of his duties. It is now clear the owners were merely biding their time until a big enough name became available before wielding the axe over the management team they inherited.
Apparently Roberto Mancini, appointed on a three and a half year contract, wasn’t big enough for some. It seems the Italian was offered the position only after both Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink passed on the opportunity to transform City into the next European super power.
Hughes’ only crime was simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite the vast resources at his disposal, his personal pulling power, combined with the club’s bare trophy cabinet, was not strong enough to attract the sort of players demanded and expected by ambitious owners.
Kaka and John Terry, to name just two, were offered king’s ransoms to forsake Milan and Chelsea respectively. The Brazilian did leave Italy but chose Madrid over Manchester while the England captain rightly remained in London rather than be accused of soccer mercenarism.
Soccer management, needless to say, is a results-orientated business. Win more than you lose and you likely keep your job. Hughes won more than he lost but still found himself ushered to the exits in a move that has everything to do with image and nothing to do with coaching ability.
For the record, by comparison with the same time a year ago, Hughes had elevated City from 18th to 6th place in the English Premier League. His team was 11 points better off and had only lost two League games – not even Chelsea or Manchester United could match that.
The albatross of uncertainty, however, had been hanging round Hughes’ neck for months. The softly spoken former Old Trafford favourite has worked hard to build a managerial career to compare favourably with his exploits on the field a generation ago.
As ‘Sparky’ - the fiercely competitive striker, who frequently clashed with opponents and questioned refereeing decisions, Hughes, alongside Eric Cantona delivered the goals which, in 1993, finally ended Manchester United’s 26 year wait to be crowned English Champions.
While still active as a player, Hughes took charge of the Welsh national team and followed that with a solid four year stint at Blackburn where, on a tight budget, he first managed to keep Rovers safe from the clutches of relegation and then led them to three consecutive top 10 finishes.
Ironically it was Rovers themselves who had earlier taken a similar short cut to success. Local steel magnate Jack Walker bought his ailing, unfashionable hometown club in the early 90s with a dream of seeing it win the newly formed Premier League in his lifetime.
I was working the Blackburn beat at the time and clearly remember then manager Don MacKay boasting of a 2-million pound bid which had been made for England striker Gary Lineker. It was too funny for words. Rovers were a struggling Second Division team and Lineker probably didn’t know where Blackburn was, never mind considering a move away from the bright lights of London.
Except it wasn’t a joke, and Blackburn was deadly serious. The money did exist and Rovers were aiming for the top as quickly as possible. Soon Walker’s involvement became public and though Tottenham accepted the offer, Lineker himself rejected the move to Ewood Park.
Inevitably MacKay, like Hughes, was fired in favour of a bigger name. None bigger than Kenny Dalglish who had retired from management earlier that year after quitting Liverpool. Walker persuaded the Scottish legend to re-think retirement, to come and spend his personal fortune and allow him to live the dream.
The appointment was a master stroke. The name Dalglish brought instant credibility to a club which, in turn, heralded the arrival of a troupe of expensive stars. Shearer, Sutton, Le Saux, Batty, Flowers and a host of others clambered aboard the gravy train – unable to resist the chance to play for Dalglish.
Jack Walker indeed lived to realize the dream as Dalglish led Rovers to the Premiership title in 1995. To this day Blackburn is the only team outside The Big Four to capture the trophy. And Liverpool, for all its dominance in the 70s and 80s, is still waiting for the agony to end.
Mancini has been hired for the same reason as Dalglish at Blackburn, and latterly Mourinho at Chelsea. His name and reputation, added to the owners’ bottomless pockets, will make players and their agents sit up and take notice. Henceforth, there is more than one viable destination in Manchester.
His arrival at this juncture is no surprise. The transfer window re-opens in little more than a week and Mancini will be busy drawing up a list of targets to strengthen City’s drive to qualify for the Champions League next season. He has the budget to buy only the best – but only the best will be hard to find.
The likes of Ronaldo, Kaka, and Ibrahimovic, with whom Mancini worked at Inter Milan, are still settling into new clubs. The best of the lot – Lionel Messi – is currently enjoying life with the best team on the planet. I can’t see him leaving Barcelona in the near future regardless of the financial inducement.
Across town Sir Alex Ferguson recently commented “sometimes you have a noisy neighbour and you have to live with it”. The pressure will be on Mancini from the moment he selects his team to face Stoke on Boxing Day but one thing is certain - the neighbours are not planning to pipe down any time soon.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?