Monday 5 January 2009

FootballFanCast- Hughes fighting article


Despite Manchester City enjoying a reasonably joyful festive period in the Premier League, with an emphatic 5-1 home victory against Hull City and earning a late 2-2 draw at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers, it goes without saying that results and form haven’t gone as well as expected. As a consequence, the World’s Richest Club have found themselves loitering around and in the relegation zone and were unceremoniously dumped out of the F.A. Cup in the third round at home to Championship relegation side Nottingham Forest after the visitors thumped the blues 3-0. Fighting broke out at both Racing Santander and the Hawthorns, but not between rival fans- between City fans who have mixed opinions of the club’s under-pressure manager, Mark Hughes. Why are City fans fighting over Hughes?

When Hughes was appointed in the summer of 2008, many City fans’ reaction was tainted by the fact that he was, and is highly regarded, as a United legend. But Hughes’ track record spoke for itself. He had enjoyed a successful period at Blackburn Rovers, doing well with a modest budget and making impressive signings. He had managed his own national team and was looking at making the next step in his managerial career. However, the majority of City fans were still upset at the departure of Sven Goran Erikkson and remained very uncertain at the future of their club with corrupt chairman Thaksin Shinawatra on the run from the law.

Then, the unbelievable. On transfer deadline day City were taken over by the billionaire Abu Dhabi United Group and immediately became the richest club in the world, signing Robinho for a record £32.5 million. No sooner had the money arrived then the expectation and pressure began to mount at City. Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim spoke to the media insisting that City could win the Champions’ League in a mere matter of seasons and that no amount of money was too excessive for potential signings (being linked with a £126 million move for United’s Ronaldo, Al Fahim simply shrugged, saying “yes, that amount of money should cover it”). Money is literally no object.

Is this the point where the manager’s job at City became too big for Hughes? Going from Rovers to City seemed a natural progression, a ‘promotion’ if you like for Hughes. But the double arrival of billionaires and a superstar Brazilian meant that City were almost expected to become the new Chelsea overnight. The hype surrounding Eastlands was phenomenal as Robinho shirts and Brazil scarves flew out of the club shop and the Chelsea home game was a complete sell-out. Fans gathered draped in tea towels in honour of their new owners and watched on in awe as Robinho took to the pitch wearing the sky blue of City. Although the result went against Hughes, there were a lot of positives to take away from the game and to build on towards a new, exciting era of football for City.

A lot of people thought that the turning point would have come against Portsmouth. In front of an intrigued new chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, City ran riot. The score-line, 6-0, seemed to be a signal of intent to send shivers down the spines of opposition managers, players and fans. To prove that City are now becoming a force and should be taken seriously in their bid to breach the top four in the Premier League; Robinho played the role of magician so magnificently and seemed to be happy, almost milking his role of superstar. Stephen Ireland was a completely reformed character and was instrumental in his role as both play-maker and sizzling shot-taker. Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Shaun Wright-Phillips had all arrived and immediately made a successful impression on the pitch, becoming first names on the team-sheet.

That home game against Portsmouth, on a still somewhat balmy September day, seems like a distant memory. Since then, results haven’t gone City’s way and performances have become lacklustre, sloppy and soul-less. Carelessly out of both the Carling and F.A. Cups to lower opposition, Brighton and Nottingham Forest, the only hope of silverware now comes in the form of the UEFA Cup. Despite City’s inconsistent and frustrating league form, the club find themselves in the knockout stages of the UEFA Cup following a group-topping series of results against FC Twente, Schalke and Paris Saint-Germain. FC Copenhagen may however prove to be a bridge too far for Hughes and his quest for European glory, particularly in City’s current run of form.

Following the defeat at the Hawthorns against bottom side West Bromwich Albion, City reluctantly slipped into the relegation zone. Many rival fans’ scoff at the position the wealthy club have found themselves in; the financial status of the club now proving to be somewhat of a nemesis for City as they have unwittingly become a scalp for most teams. Who is to blame? In which direction should the finger be pointed? Mark Hughes is the club’s manager and many complaints and issues have been raised regarding various different areas and aspects of his job.

Does Hughes actually have the power he needs over the dressing room? Temperamental Brazilian midfielder Elano has allegedly been stirring up trouble, doubting his manager’s ability and talking to the press. Does Hughes have the people skills that are needed in such a job? Players like Micah Richards, Michael Johnson and many of the reserves are regularly seen out around Manchester either drinking or making guest DJ appearances- is this the kind of thing that should be condoned? Johnson, who is currently on the sidelines after being injured but was once touted as being the next Colin Bell, is rumoured to be around two stone overweight due to over-indulging off the pitch. Richards has completely lost his form and looks almost unrecognisable to the player who was once so full of pace and sharpness, his potential as a future England defender shattered as he basks in his status off the pitch.

Is Hughes selecting the right players? Although at the moment due to injuries he is limited, should Hughes be fielding out-of-form players like Jo and Darius Vassell? What good is a forward player like Vassell if his confidence is so low that, once through on goal, he panics and refuses to take a shot, preferring to pass it to a team-mate. Recent starts for Felipe Caicedo and Daniel Sturridge have been encouraging, as has been the formation switch to 4-4-2.

Has Hughes got the calibre to attract the top names that City crave and require if they are to build a successful and consistent team? In this aspect, the majority of fans will surely think back to when Sven was in charge. Sven was a manager that was well-respected and that opposition players would relish the chance of playing for. Would Hughes have the pulling power to entice the vast range of names linked with City? If so, would he be able to control the egos that inevitably arrive with recognised top-quality players?

All managers have to start somewhere though and must be allowed time to build and develop a team of their own. To earn and retain a management style and reputation that is respected and envied. Is Hughes capable of that? Is he respected? So often is the case nowadays that, if instant success and results don’t come to a team, the manager is promptly relieved of his duties (think Paul Ince at Rovers). Never have managers had a shorter life-span than in the current climate of football.

Is Hughes worthy of time? Or has he already proven that the job is much bigger and requires much more managerial experience, skills and personality than the Welshman has to offer. If he does leave City, who would replace him? Frank Rijkaard? Gus Hiddink? Avram Grant? Would Jose ‘The Special One’ Mourinho be tempted by City’s millions at the end of his current season with Inter Milan? One thing is for sure- Hughes’ position at City has definitely split the fans’ opinion and left a very unsavoury taste in thousands of fans’ mouths. Perhaps his only saving grace is that the Premier League is so close this season that it only takes a couple of wins to rocket up the table towards the European places.

City fans are sick and tired of watching dour, passion-less and uninspired football. Where is the passion and pride that players like Kevin Horlock, Paul Dickov and Uwe Rosler displayed week in week out? Perhaps the biggest irony of it all is that the World’s Richest Club is having to deal with the fact that money is sucking the heart and soul out of football. The game is selling out to the highest bidder and although money talks, fans are speechless at the moment.

In this article I have asked many questions. If you have answered no to the majority of them then you are aware that the man in the scorching-hot seat at City is not the right man for the club. At this rate, surely it will only be a matter of time before the Abu Dhabi owners decide to ‘sheikh’ it up- after all, with half the season gone already, things can surely only get better…can’t they?

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