Friday 13 June 2008

Football Hughes article

When you arrive at the City of Manchester stadium, one of the things that are noticeable is the boards littered around the ground emblazoned with the words ‘This Is Our City’. The words take on a dual signification: that Manchester the city itself is represented by City the football club and that Manchester City F.C. belongs to the fans. Well, not literally of course. But the signs insinuate that City are a club that looks after their fans and share an intimate bond with them, and that the feeling is reciprocal.

So how did City expect their fans to react to the news of ex Manchester United striker Mark Hughes replacing Sven Goran Eriksson as manager? There seems to have been two common reactions from blues fans so far. The first reaction is greeting Hughes’ appointment with anger and disappointment. A lot of City fans are unhappy that a former red is managing their club- that his record in management is irrelevant and the saying ‘once a red, always is red’ is being brandished about a lot. Fans assume that Hughes is using City as a mere stepping stone before he takes over from Ferguson at the neighbours.

I have previously written an article based on the rivalry between City and United fans and it is something that you cannot really explain without experiencing it firsthand. It is the same as Roy Keane, Steve Bruce or Paul Ince taking over the reins at Eastlands- they have all worn the red of the neighbours and are City’s sworn enemies. Now all of a sudden Hughes is the City manager and fans are expected to chant his name? No chance. City fans despise United and everything they stand for- they only won the Champions League final because John Terry slipped and fell on his backside.

Then there’s a different reaction to Hughes’ arrival- the happy one. The one where City fans have almost managed to overlook Hughes’ playing career and who his former employers were, and who are excited about the prospect of him managing their club. A 44 year old manager with excellent potential who did very well with his previous two jobs- as the Welsh national coach and manager of Blackburn Rovers.

During his time as manager of Wales, he did a very respectable job and almost secured a place in Euro 2004 with them, losing out to Russia in the play-offs. He then became manager of Blackburn Rovers in September 2004 and completely transformed the Lancashire club from relegation favourites to a club chasing European football. Rovers also reached three cup semi-finals in the four year period that Hughes managed them. He is proven to be tactically astute, passionate and highly motivated. He made some very shrewd signings for Rovers, including David Bentley, Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz. It is a measure of his style of play that many Premier League clubs didn’t relish playing against his somewhat aggressive and tight Rovers’ outfit.

My personal opinion is the latter of the two. In this matter I think it’s imperative that City fans attempt to look past the colour of the shirt that Hughes has previously sported and acknowledge the potential he has, not only as a manager, but City’s manager. In a way it is a bit like a foreigner managing England- if he has got the ability then who cares. But City fans will turn on him hard though if it doesn’t work out, without a doubt, and City can certainly wave goodbye to the Fair Play league if Hughes’ aggressive style is anything to go by.

The thing with City is that being a fan is damn hard work. With every new manager you want to have the hope and optimism every time, but with every press conference and so many false dawns it really does take its toll. I was bitterly disappointed with the departure of Sven after a record-breaking season, but I have decided to embrace Hughes’ appointment and put my skepticism aside. It is another new dawn at City, and this time the new dawn has introduced us to a new figure in the City boardroom.

Garry Cook has been appointed at City by Thaksin Shinawatra as the club’s new ‘executive chairman’. A prolific bigwig at Nike, who was responsible for inventing the Nike Jordan brand, Cook has relocated to Manchester to realise his boyhood dream. Many have tipped him to act as ‘the new Peter Kenyon’ (another ex United figure) at City and will market the club on a global scale. I particularly liked his recent quote after Hughes’ press conference, saying: “You cannot escape the fact that this club has a wonderful history and heritage and that it is Manchester’s club. You have to build on that.” Manchester’s club, I like that.

Cook has also acknowledged the fact that he knows that many blues have been left disconcerted and disheartened after the entire Sven drama at Eastlands. He said: “Supporters are very important to us. There are bridges to be built with them. Many fans will say ‘typical City’ but we have to move on from that. This is a great club with great times ahead.”

But anybody can talk the talk, the test will come with the arrival of the new season come August. Whatever the reaction, you can guarantee that life will never be dull at Manchester City. Rumours linking Hughes with signings like Ronaldinho, Jo, Bentley, Santa Cruz and Samba have been circulating and. Only time will tell whether Hughes will prove to be the man for the hottest seat in English football management and whether he will be given the time by Shinawatra- and the fans.

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