Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mark Hughes: Come on In, Your Time at Manchester City Is Up...

I think we can all agree that Mark Hughes' time at Manchester City will end sooner rather than later...

The ex-Blackburn manager has been operating under a cloud since Manchester City was bought by Sheikh Mansour, effectively making City the richest club in the world.

To put their stamp on the club and show their future intentions, City immediately signed Brazillian Robinho from Spanish giants Real Madrid for a fee believed to be around £32m.

This might have seemed like a nice piece of business, and Robinho has been one of City's shining lights this season, but this signing has sent a message to the rest of the squad. Not a message that said "you can be replaced" but a message of "you will be replaced."

At this stage last season with Sven-Goran Eriksson in charge and minus Robinho, City was in the European places. Now, they sit mired in the relegation zone.

What's the difference?

There are a number of differences—Mark Hughes, the untenable pressure that the players are operating under, and at the moment, a poor run of form.

Managers are different creatures.

Sven's philosophy is to make all his players as comfortable as possible and make them feel part of a family. Last season, all of the media's attention was directed at him, and he took the blows as City's season faltered in the second half.

He protected all of his players and they played for him. He had a similar effect as England manager—his players there all liked him. Even today, you will not find an ex-England or City player who is critical of the now, Mexico boss.

Hughes is a different kettle of fish.

At Blackburn and Wales, he fostered teams who were more than the sum of their parts. Both were hard-working teams with the emphasis on the overall team effort.

He has struggled at City so far, but I don't neccessarily blame Hughes for the teams current plight, nor do I blame the players. However, Hughes must hold his hand up and accept that this current situation could have been avoided.

With the Robinho signing, City announced that they would pay any kind of money for any kind of player. Knowing that you are going to be replaced has had a catastrophic effect on player morale within the club.

Players like Elano, Richards, and Dunne, who were all outstanding last season, have been in self-destruct mode this season as all confidence seems to have drained away from them.

Up-and-coming players like Michael Johnson and Micah Richards have slowly realised that they will be edged out as the new regime begins to take hold.

When the money begins to flow, players who have come up through the youth system at City will find it harder than ever to make the squad, never mind the team.

Much has been made of the conveyor belt of youth players being developed at Arsenal, but even they cannot match the youth system at Manchester City. Over the last few seasons, 26 players have graduated from their academy, all of them from the British Isles, to play first team football at the Eastlands.

The pressure that the current City squad are operating under is not the same kind of pressure that title-challenging players are used to playing with. The situation at United and Liverpool for their players is much different.

There, the players operate under the knowledge that a bad run of form will see you removed from the team or maybe even the squad until you force your way back in. A continued run of poor form lasting a season will see you moved on.

The same rules apply at every team, but at City this situation is now in its most accelerated form.

Find yourself out of the team and it is hard to get back in. Find yourself in the squad, and you may as well call your agent in the morning.

Even if you are lucky enough to keep your place in the starting XI, you know that you will be replaced by someone better than you as money is now not an obstacle.

Mark Hughes has been poor in this regard. He has failed to protect his players from this unwanted outside interference. Of course he is operating under the same cloud too, but ultimately it his his job to get the best from his players, not the other way around.

Hughes' answer to the current situation?

It's to pile more pressure on his beleaguered team. The same team who was fifth this time last year is now not good enough?

"I've known since day one the frailties of the team," said Hughes after the embarrassing FA Cup defeat to Forest.

If he knew the squad wasn't good enough back then, why didn't he fix it then?

Let's call a spade a spade.

City were never going to challenge for Europe this season, except through a good cup run. And to challenge for the Champions' League positions, City will have to treble their current wage bill of around £35million per year.

Hughes knows this, and he should have enough know how to remove all the pressure from his players, and infuse them with the knowledge that some of them will be a major part of his squad in years to come.

Stephen Ireland and Robinho are easily Man City's best players this season, and are more than capable of playing in a Champions League squad. They should be joined by Richard Dunne, Micah Richards, Michael Johnson, Shaun Wright Phillips, Elano, and Daniel Sturridge at least, but Hughes appears to have marked their cards.

Hughes has spoken of his frustration with the current City team, "We need to bring in three, four, or maybe even five players who will compliment those we already have. That's not easy but we'll look to do that because it's obvious to everybody, that's the minimum we need."

Who has Hughes earmarked to sign?

Wayne Bridge signed from Chelsea on Sunday for £12m, at £90k a week. A good signing, if a little over the odds both in wages and fee. This again sends out a message to the squad.

If City and Hughes are willing to spend £12m added to £5m a year in wages for a bit-part player at Chelsea, what chances do any of the City players have?

So far, Hughes has spent around £90m on a handful of players. His next targets are Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy, Scott Parker, Shay Given, and Lucas Neill.

Of all these players mentioned, only Given is of a high standard. Why sign players like Bellamy and Parker who will obviously be moved on as City chases the league?

I'm sorry, but of this list, only Given and perhaps Santa Cruz are good enough to play in Europe. And if these are the players that Hughes wants to challenge the elite of English football, then the City board would be doing themselves a favour by sacking him now.

Hughes has not performed well as manager of Manchester City.

He has more resources than his predecessor, and yet, he has turned this team into relegation battlers, and now when he has a chance to put things right and sign some quality players, he chooses this motley crew as his saviours?

No, City needs to act before he does any more damage. I'm sorry Mark but your time is up.

twitter / WillieGannon