To Mark, Happy Christmas, Love Man City XXX

3 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   December 20, 2009  |     6

It was probably unsurprising that Manchester City should choose one of the most extraordinary weekends of the season to trump everybody else. While Liverpool supporters finally seemed to be turning on Rafael Benitez after Liverpool lost at Portsmouth, Manchester United were being given a masterclass in ecomonical football by Fulham and Chelsea were scratching and scrambling their way to a draw at West Ham United, City were playing out another mini-drama at The City of Manchester Stadium against Sunderland and then sacking their manager.

They beat Sunderland in the end, but it wouldn’t have made any difference to Mark Hughes. The rumour mill had already started before they even kicked off. We can only imagine what was going through his head while that match was in progress. With somewhat unseemly haste – and with a public statement rather than a press conference – Hughes was removed by early yesterday evening and replaced with Roberto Mancini. The decision, therefore, had already been taken, unless City are going to attempt to claim that they just happened to have his mobile phone number on speed-dial. Done and dusted, just like that.

What, then, can Manchester City expect from Mancini? Much will be made of the three back to back Serie A wins with Internazionale, but his record is obviously not completely spotless. Two of the aforementioned three championship wins came at a time that most of their serious competitors were crippled by the fall-out of the Calciopoli scandal. He was certainly less than successful in the Champions League even though they were so successful in Italy, and the Champions League is presumably still intend to be in time for the start of next season. The speed with which the decision was made, however, seems to indicate that he was the only man considered for the job.

The timing of the decision certainly seems peculiar. They have five matches in eleven days starting on Boxing Day, including a potentially tricky FA Cup Third Round match at Middlesbrough and an all-important League Cup semi-final first leg against Manchester United. The United match is the key to the extent to which expectations at the club have changed. The League Cup match is City’s first semi-final match in a major competition since their 1981 FA Cup semi-final against Ipswich Town. Getting into the Champions League is clearly their main ambition – the £200m that they have spent on players might start to seem a little foolish otherwise – but for much of their long-suffering support, winning the League Cup wouldn’t be too bad a start.

How, then, do we frame Mark Hughes’ time in charge of Manchester City? To an extent, he was given an almost impossible job. Manchester City have maybe failed to completely grasp the notion that money isn’t the only thing that will bridge the gap between themselves and the Champions League Four. This season, they have wavered between two extremes. Their wins over Arsenal in the Premier League and the League Cup were flashes of the brilliance that their current squad is capable of. However, the fact that they have contrived to concede three goals at home against Burnley, away at Bolton Wanderers and also failed to beat relegation Hull City at home. Their defeat at Spurs last Wednesday was as supine as anything that any of the relegation candidates have managed so far this season.

Quite where Manchester City go from here is anybody’s guess. It will doubtless be tempting for them to go crazy in the January transfer window, and how wise this would be seems unlikely to be a factor in whether they will do it or not. Can a squad that is already filled to overflowing with massive egos cope with yet another influx of celebrity names in the new year? The truth of the matter is that City probably don’t need any new signings in the new year. They have only lost twice in the Premier League this season, which is less than anybody else in this surprisingly unpredictable season. If they can sort out their rickety defence, there is still a good chance that they can get into the Champions League and win a cup.

Don’t shed too many tears for Leslie Mark Hughes, though. The financial compensation from Manchester City will get him through the next few months at least and, with only one other Premier League club having shed their manager so far this season, there are likely to be other managerial vacancies available before even this season is out. He may or may not have been good enough to take Manchester City into the Champions League this season, but he is at worst an average manager, and this will be enough for him to get another opportunity elsewhere, although he will probably never have an opportunity like this one again.

Manchester City, however, remain the eternal soap opera. To their rivals, they are often the gift that keeps on giving. To the more neutral spectator, they remain an enigma. A world of back-stage intrigue in which success, against all odds, is demanded immediately, with the caveat that it has to be the right sort of success. A curious mixture of occasional arrogance masking hidden inner insecurities. The key question for City’s supporters is whether this managerial change at this time will make it more or less likely that they will achieve the goals that their owners crave so much and, at this stage, it is difficult to justify a positive answer to this question.



Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.

  • December 20, 2009 at 10:56 pm


    Mark Hughes left Wales in the lurch as soon as a Premiership club came calling … some might say “what goes around comes around” … but I do feel a teensy bit of sympathy for Sparky here.

    Obviously this is just the latest example of Premiership football eating itself and hopefully it won’t be to long before we get our game back.

  • December 20, 2009 at 10:57 pm


    Good article mate, well researched.
    For me they should have given Sparky til the end of the season..Although on our forums polls suggest I’m in a very slim minority.

  • December 21, 2009 at 4:52 am


    The decision to sack Mark Hughes was apparently made after the Arsenal Carling Cup victory on 2nd December. This would seem to suggest that it was the lack of a Premiership win in October and November (albeit with seven draws & no defeats), rather than the manner of the ignominous 3-0 defeat at Spurs that motivated the owners (ADUG) to change the manager.

    Hughes was not ADUG’s choice as manager, but they gave him £200 million to spend and Robinho as a golden hello. It would appear they lost patience with him.

    I do feel sad for Mark Hughes. For all he may or may not have done wrong, I feel he has always handled himself excellently. He has transformed the club off the pitch, handled himself with dignity, especially yesterday when he knew he was a goner, and bought fairly astutely.

    The media have been their usual hypocritical selves. Hughes his tactics and buys have been slated for months, then he gets sacked and suddenly the whole media is suddenly up in arms. You can’t have it both ways.

    At the end of the day, the team was still not gelling. I would have liked him to have the season to sort it out, the owners disagreed. With all the money they have pumped in, and will do, they do have a right to make an appoinment of their own. This is the norm with new onwers, and Hughes got longer than most.

    However, the manner of his sacking left a lot to be desired. Clubs do go behind managers backs to talk to potential new managers, but they usually give the current manager an indication they are not happy with him. This didn’t happen with Hughes. And if you’re going to get rid of a manager, fine. What you don’t do is do it on match day – what were Cook, Marwood and ADUG thinking? (Shades of Martin Jol at Spurs).

    You are being unfair in your estimation of Mancini. He took over at Fiorentina and Lazio when both clubs were skint, basket-cases and won the Cup at both clubs. The point about Calciopoli is not a valid one. Inter were closely on Juve’s tail in 2005 but were getting increasingly pissed off at bent refs (who Juve & Milan selected) helping Juve & Milan win games. The general rumour in Italy was it was the suits at Inter who grassed up Juve & Milan. They were cheating to their rivals disadvantage and got caught, if “their serious competitors were crippled” they only brought it on themselves and they had been doing the same to their rivals for some time. Mancini won two titles “on the pitch” and two Italian Cups and is still highly regarded there.

    Finally, in a long post, if we at City appear “a curious mixture of occasional arrogance masking hidden inner insecurities”, then that is lot better than the outright arrogance and sense of entitlement of the ‘Big Four’ and their loud whinging when things don’t go their way. I heard a pundit say “Arsenal and Liverpool fans have shown immense patience” the other day. Yeah right, Arsenal last won a trophy five years ago, Liverpool three years ago, and have finished top four in the intervening years. Eleven years ago City were losing at York in the third tier, if you want to demonstrate patience try that and 33 years since a trophy.

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