Why Man City were right to sack Hughes

It’s been a turbulent weekend in the Premiership, with Mark Hughes being sacked by Manchester City after their 4-3 victory over Sunderland. The media reaction has been huge, with many stating their surprise and outrage at a move which seems as if it has been a long time coming. It has been said that the sacking was unfair on a manager who has overseen just two league defeats from 17 games this season. Unfair it certainly was, but also a decision that had to be made.

Phil McNulty says on his BBC blog that Hughes has been “harshly dealt with” and that “money may be able to buy most things, but instant Eastlands success is not one of them”. Elsewhere Harry Redknapp, whose team’s victory against City last week was probably the final nail in the coffin, has said he was “disappointed” to hear of the sacking.

It is not a surprising reaction. Since the Abu Dhabi United Group took over last September, and City became the richest club in football, they have constantly been criticised for spending huge amounts of money and expecting instant success. Like Chelsea before them, their money has been met with a certain amount of envy, as many take the moral high ground and claim that it is bad for the English game. Hughes had been labelled a dead man walking ever since the owners took charge, having been employed by the considerably poorer previous administration less than three months before.

City are currently sixth in the league, two points above Liverpool with a game in hand, and in the semi finals of the Carling Cup. Since losing to Manchester United they have lost just one game from fifteen in all competitions, playing all of the other three ‘Big Four’ sides on the way. It’s not a bad record at all, until you realise that they have only won two of their last eleven league games.

The way the sacking was conducted was certainly without class and not decent to any manager regardless of their record. Mancini was obviously already lined up for the job before yesterday’s game, yet today League Managers Association executive Richard Bevan has criticised City’s impatience, claiming that Hughes did not know his fate until afterwards. There have also been reports of a last minute player’s revolt lead by Shay Given being ignored by chairman Khaldoon al Murbarak.

It is easy to feel sorry for a man who largely comes across as pretty likeable and who has witnessed his club and their expectations transform entirely in his short tenure. But football is not a sentimental sport, and City’s owners must act harshly if they want to become the most successful club in the country. Hughes was unable to get the best from an extremely talented squad and, when money is spent, results are expected.

The owners have been criticised for not giving Hughes enough time but he has had a season and a half to shape a team to challenge for the top four. His team managed just a tenth place finish last year and, despite improvement this year after more spending, looked far from where they would want to be last week against Spurs.

He has had certainly more time than Claudio Ranieri was given when Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea and although that sacking was considered harsh at the time few would doubt now that it was the right decision. Harsher perhaps was the sacking of Paul Hart who, in stark contrast to Hughes, had to sell many of his best players as the club collapsed around him – yet I doubt many Portsmouth supporters are thinking sentimentally about that now.

The simple fact is that City’s owners have put large amounts of money into the club and therefore should not be criticised for expecting a big return. Players such as Robinho, Tevez, and Lescott cost a lot and their squad is of a higher quality than that of Villa or Tottenham. In a year where a place in the top four is there for the taking, City should have been doing better and the manager is the one responsible.

And what if they had been patient? The truth is that it probably would have not made any difference. Mark Hughes has a good record in management but did anyone really expect him to be the person to lead them to the Premiership and Champions League success that they so desperately crave?. City are also creating a brand and Hughes is hardly a big name manager who will attract the top players from around the world. The simple reality is that Man City are striving to become the top club in the country and he was never going to be the man to take them there. It’s horribly unfair on him, but it’s the truth.

There are claims that Mancini will not be able to do any better in the role. There is no way of knowing how well he will adapt to English football but this is a manager who led Inter to their first Serie A title in 18 years, albeit in unusual circumstances, and then two more after. He has grabbed the attention of some of the top clubs in Europe before. Of course there is no guarantee that he will be more successful than Hughes, but he has the resources there for him and will be able to attract further big name players.

I’m sure Hughes will go on to find a another job. He’s a good manager and can take positives from what has actually been a reasonably successful process for him. No one expected him to last long in the role after the takeover but he has stayed for a season and half under owners that always had to power to bring in a big name replacement. Overall his reputation has been enhanced by the experience.

The Abu Dhabi United Group can be accused of ruining football by using money to achieve success but at least they have made their goals clear from the start: “to make Manchester City the biggest club in the Premier League.” Some say that money will not buy them this success, but the past has shown us that it probably can. Whether this is moral or good for the game is irrelevant; City’s owners have paid big money for their team to challenge at the highest level and, when they did not do this, Hughes had to go.

4 comments

  1. 21 Dec ’09 at 12:31 pm

    Georgi Kinkladze

    Good article which raises a few points which have been ignored by the media in reacting to this story. Whilst you can’t say Hughes has done a bad job at City, i’d agree that with hundreds of millions spent the owners do have a right to expect better. As the article points out, Hughes has actually been given a fairly decent period of time at the helm and despite having access to a bottomless pit of money his side don’t look like top 4 material yet. Of course it may well turn out that his hands were tied by the owners meddling in transfers/team selections, but at face value, the decision to sack Hughes is understandable with the January window just around the corner.

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  2. I don’t think I could really disagree more. The best managers around (think Ferguson, Wenger, Moyes) are those who have been given time to shape their teams, a year and a half is not a long time. He has spent money and the owners do deserve results in return for their investment, but they’re 6th and if they win their game in hand they’re only 3 points off 3rd. How crazy has football become if this is seen as failure?

    The amount of draws they’ve had has been disappointing, but the fact of the matter is they’re not losing too many. Alex Ferguson will vouch for that, he would rather have been drawing too many than losing to Villa and Fulham. Added to that Hughes has come out and said his brief was to finish in the top 6 and possibly win a Cup; well, correct me if I’m wrong but currently in 6th place and in the Semi-final of a Cup competition seems like delivering the job he has been asked to.

    I know Hughes isn’t perfect, but a very good manager he certainly is. A quick glance at Blackburn since he left shows he got them to regularly outperform expectations there. There is nothing to say Mancini will be any better, even if he does well if he’s not delivering attacking football, regular wins and tight defensive displays it appears Murbarak will get rid of him – talk about pressure to deliver.

    The players’ revolt, led by Shay Given apparently, proves the players (with the possible exception of Robinho) were behind Hughes and it’s extremely harsh on the Welshmen. Having been behind Man City this season – basically because I wanted the top four to be challenged – I will now hope they fail, to prove that managers need time (real time, not a year and a half) and if they don’t get it they are always up against it.

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  3. It was the right decision; said as a City fan and someone who wants a long-term manager at the club. It was the right decision for three reasons.

    1. Tactics

    Hughes was tactically naive. Against Tottenham we surrendered the match before kick off with a woeful 4-3-3 formation; no width and little balance. In other games, we’ve thrown wins away with the wrong substitution (moving Ireland to the right wing almost cost us against Sunderland on Saturday). Moreover, with an expensively assembled coaching staff, team-Hughes could not fashion a solid defence (something he had inherited from Sven) out of near enough £100,000,000 worth of defenders. Hughes was not strong enough tactically to be the top manager City – the owners, players and fans – crave and need to be successful.

    2. Draws

    We have drawn far too many games – often at the expense of a win. Regardless of only having lost two matches, we have time and again thrown away results and failed to finish games off. This is unacceptable for any club seeking the top four; especially in a season where Champions League football is up for grabs with Liverpool’s demise. This links to tactics.

    3. Outlay & Returns

    We spent close to £250,000,000 under Hughes. Regardless of the quality of the signings (Given to Tal Ben Haim… and I don’t count Robinho as a Hughes signing), such an outlay demands swift returns. Not instant, but swift. With 18 months in charge, 12 months with such financial backing and 6 months in possession of the best squad to date, City remain unable to win matches and defend coherently. I don’t believe instant success was expected, nor should it be. But Hughes had enough time for a top manager – what City need and want – to develop at least the basis of a top team. Frankly, there were on Saturday, still no such signs that Hughes was managing to do so.

    For the above, Hughes had to go. The timing is important too. It will give Mancini the ability to work with the team for a couple of the weeks before the January window, and the opportunity for him to assess what he wants to change in the window. If this situation were left any longer, the side would have suffered because of the delay.

    I am glad that City finally have people with the ruthless strength and confidence, not to mention financial clout, to make City a winner. For too long inexperience, under investment and compromise have been characteristic of my club. The only way forward is a total change of thinking and practice. I love seeing this around the Club where ever I look.

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  4. 25 Dec ’09 at 12:46 am

    Thierry Henry

    Handballgate aside, I agree with Shay Given’s reply.

    The most succesful teams are those who persist with their manger the longest. Sir Alex Ferguson was almost sacked in his early tenure. Legend has it an FA Cup goal by Mark Robins saved his job. If it wasn’t for that goal he’d just be Alex Ferguson.

    Now Hughes. You don’t turn into a bad manager overnight. He worked wonders at both Wales and Blackburn.

    Man City are now competing with teams who spend lots. City now have ‘unlimited’ funds. But I’d like to compare the cost of Man City’s, Aston Villa’s and Tottenham’s squads. I bet there’s not much in it. The only difference is Man City spend there’s overnight, wheras Villa/Spurs have spent a lot over a longer period.

    I hope Mancini fails, and City keep repeating this ridiculous cycle.

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