It's now the morning after the night before, and the news is starting to sink in that Mark Hughes has been replaced as manager by Roberto Mancini.
How will this decision affect Manchester City and our season?
Mark Hughes, it should be remembered, was hired at the end of the Thaksin regime (I think it's fair enough to describe Shinawatra's tenure at City as that). At the time, we were skint. Hughes was brought in to transform City into a hard-working, high tempo team, all the while working on a limited transfer budget. It was hoped he could emulate his feats at Blackburn, where he was able to unearth some gems in the transfer market (Roque Santa Cruz), and perhaps qualify for Europe again.
The start of Hughes' appointment certainly followed the script. Apart from Jo, who to be fair was hardly his responsibility, he made some astute signings, such as Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, and the returning Shaun Wright-Phillips. The start of the season was fairly subdued, as City stuttered through the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds and picked up some solid points in the league, the most impressive a 3-0 win at Sunderland. And then, the world changed forever, for everyone...
Hughes, and Manchester City, had suddenly won the lottery. In the eighteen hours between the takeover and the close of the summer transfer window, City broke the British transfer record, signing Robinho for £32million. Overnight, City were transformed from mid-table battlers to the most talked about club in world football.
Sheikh Mansour to his credit, stuck by the man from the previous regime, even after a 2-1 defeat at West Brom in December saw City slip into the relegation zone. After this particular match, it appeared that Hughes' position was now untenable. Many City fans, myself included, thought that this would be the end for Hughes.
To the credit of the owners, he was retained. He had access to a transfer kitty in January, his first real chance to make an impact on market and to buy the players he wanted who would play in the style he wanted to play. And his purchases were certainly inspired, as Shay Given, Nigel De Jong, and Craig Bellamy combined to salvage City's season, eventually finishing in tenth, but still failing to qualify for Europe.
It has been referred to a number of times that the owners are all about "stability", however less than twelve months after the takeover, the only constants from the Thaksin regime were Hughes, Garry Cook, Stephen Ireland, Micah Richards, and Les Chapman. Just about every other player who was at the club before the takeover (including many of Sven's signings) were transferred, loaned, or released.
A more logical scenario would have seen Hughes moved on at the end of last season, and ADUG's own man brought in. It is strange that the owners were prepared to allow Hughes, a man that they did not appoint, access to an open chequebook, and back him without question in the transfer market. And it is commendable that they had such faith in the manager, and were prepared to build a whole club around him, his management team (the "Taffia"), and his priority for fitness and work-rate. There was a sense that Hughes would build a Baconface-esque dynasty at the club.
Clear targets were set for this season — top-six or bust. However, that target soon became obsolete, due to the changed transfer strategy. The owners saw a favourable marketplace, where Real Madrid aside, there was very little transfer activity. The Rags were even reduced to buying players from Wigan and the Championship. Hughes had the opportunity that no other manager in the history of football has had before — the chance to sign virtually any player and amount of players of his choosing. It is for this reason that so much was expected of this season.
This original sixth-place target was now upgraded to Champions League football. It has been alluded to by players, the staff, and the Chairman himself. Despite being on record as saying that the top-six was still a target, behind the scenes it was a different story. Assuming every player is fit, there is no reason that the current City squad should not be challenging for the League. The sacking of Hughes whilst City sits in the top six is evidence of this.
The Right Decision?
The sacking of Hughes brings unnecessary disruption to a season that has already been tumultuous to say the least. Yes, our form has not been great, the run of draws has hamstrung our season, and we have played poor on too many occasions. But will changing the manager, and with it the dynamic of the club, translate into a higher position in the table? And what of Hughes' buys, such as Santa Cruz, Bellamy, and Tevez? Will their form be affected?
Whilst we're not progressing as we should be, I don't think changing the manager was the answer. But what is though? Can Mancini fix our leaky defense for instance?
I don't agree with the decision, as personally I think it's poorly timed. I do see the reasons for it though, and at least it gives Mancini a couple of games to see where we need to improve and strengthen during the January window.
I do feel sorry for Sparky. He was a divisive character, partly because of the club he played his football with, but also because of perceived tactical weakness and lack of real personality. But hopefully, now that the future of Hughes has been decided, City fans can once more unite behind the team and the manager.
City were here a long time before Hughes, and we'll be here a long time after. Our support will continue — no matter who the players are, who the gaffer is, or what division we are playing in.
I am behind Mancini 100% as he takes us into a new era, and I wish Sparky all the best in his next post.