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.