Sunday, 20 December 2009

Bipolarity leads to the demise of Hughes

Perhaps the events of yesterday were inevitable. Perhaps Mark Hughes was always destined for the sack. Perhaps he was never really the man our Arab owners envisaged to lead City into a new era of success.

The real conundrum here is that Hughes has been given £200m to overhaul the squad. At some point over these past few months there must have been quite a bit of belief in the Welshman’s ability to do the job required. Why then, after investing so much money in the team, in the manager’s selection of players, in the manager’s revamp of the club facilities, have we decided to jettison Hughes.

Has this club really changed? Or are we making the very same mistakes that have seen us dispatch some very good managers over the years? You can probably guess that I am vehemently opposed to the sacking of Mark Hughes.

More bipolar play against Sunderland
Now, don’t get me wrong. It has certainly not been all roses under Hughes this season. In a strange way, the Welshman’s final game in charge against Sunderland yesterday said it all about the nature of play under his tenure this season.

We can attack. Very well. That much is certain. Yesterday our frontline looked like it would score almost every time it went forward. Granted, this owed much to the ineptness of Sunderland’s defence, but you can only beat what is put in front of you, and yesterday we breached Sunderland’s backline time and again. The lynchpins of our forward movement are clear for all to see: Bellamy, Tevez and, when he feels like it, Adebayor. Sometimes they are a joy to watch, unlike anything I have ever witnessed at City over all the time I have been going to the games. Hughes should take credit for this – we have been attack minded and free flowing for the most part because we have been trying to play to our strengths. Hughes has tried to take the shackles off our forward players. He has told them to go and play.

But we just cannot defend. Indeed, this appears to regressed ever further with yesterday’s game. We weren’t capable of defending our area – it’s pretty much as simple as that. The vast majority of crosses caused us problems and there seemed a distinct lack of our backline winning any sort of aerial battle. The battles we won yesterday were hardly ever directed towards a blue shirt, which meant that we were being called upon to defend again.

Of course, the defence hasn’t been helped with injuries to Bridge and Lescott (the latter of which was beginning to look like the more promising of our two big central defensive buys). What consistency there was has been wiped away, with Sylvinho understandably still getting to grips with his second spell in England and Onuoha looking shaky.

At the end of the day, these are excuses. This is what we have a squad for, to bring players into the team to do solid jobs when our first choices are injured. But nothing has gone right at the back pretty much since the home draw against Fulham.

The blame game
The debate will rage on long and hard about who exactly is responsible for the downfall of Hughes.

Of course, the Welshman must shoulder some of the blame himself. Bar Robinho, all transfer deals appeared to have his blessing, so we cannot say that this wasn’t his team. Maybe he got it tactically wrong. Before the summer signing spree, Hughes talked and talked about getting the balance of the side right. John Terry and Theo Walcott aside, he pretty much got what he wanted during the summer. Getting the right players in the right positions is one thing, but moulding them into a cohesive unit is another. And this is where the tactics come in. Louise Taylor makes a very interesting point here – that Hughes’ tactics have inadvertently ended up exposing players like Bridge and Lescott (who both previously played under more cautious managers) to new defensive frailties.

This said, I think there were small signs that defensively we were coming together. Yes, we were still leaking goals badly, but I thought that Bridge, Lescott and Richards were making small strides after the Hull game. Time and patience are the only things that could’ve given us any kind of real verdict here, but time and patience are luxuries that have now escaped Mark Hughes, and now perhaps we will never know whether or not we were coming together as a defensive unit.

For me, the real buck must stop with the players. The Robinho’s, the Adebayor’s, the Toure’s of the squad have let Mark Hughes down badly. We signed quality attacking players that have delivered only occasionally. We signed hardened premier league players that demonstrated their experience only in glimpses. Everybody knows we have the quality to be better than where we currently are – 6th in the table. But I don’t think the players have taken the necessary responsibility required. There was a time when they did, in the early part of the season, but somehow this has been whittled away.

The real movers and shakers behind the scenes I feel have made a big mistake. Who knows from where the initial urge to terminate Hughes’ contract initially came? It is probably wrapped within conversations between Mansour, Khaldoon, Cook and City’s Executive Leadership Team. We are 6th in the table, we are 6 points of 4th place with a game in hand. We are in the Semi finals of the League Cup, a stage we have not reached in any cup competition since 1981. How can this not be viewed as progress?

The counter argument lies in the nature of our performances. Two wins in the last 11 league games is not good, and although we have lost only one of those 11, it is the way we have been surrendering leads against lesser teams that surely has to have been the final nail in Hughes’ coffin.

Do we now have a pop at the club’s leadership?
Whether or not we can vilify our leaders depends upon the manner in which they have communicated to Hughes how they were to assess his performance. If they have simply said “Mark, its top four or bust for you this season,” then I don’t believe this sacking stands up. This league is an open one, I and believe we are still very much in the mix for that 4th place. If, like Hughes says, he was given a target of a top 6 finish, then the board’s move is sheer madness.

If on the other hand, the leadership has set mid-season targets with Hughes, then it is a different ball game. I think that it’s entirely likely that Hughes has been set a target of wins before Christmas, and as he has gone because he has not achieved that. If he knew this from the beginning of the season, then fine. If not, then foul play is at work here.

Thank you Mark Hughes
I liked Hughes as a manager. I thought he conducted himself well for the club, was very professional both at the dugout and off the pitch, plus was not afraid of mixing it when other managers started to apply the mind games. The sad fact is that, much like Richard Dunne, he found himself overtaken by the broader drive of a club whose ambitions have been in overdrive for some time now.

Hughes has given us some good memories. Some, like the UEFA cup run that saw us reach the quarter finals, are all his. Unfortunately others, such as the oncoming League cup semi final against United, he will now not be allowed to enjoy. Above all he has given us some excellent attacking play.

Looking back, I always thought that Hughes would bring this club into an era of consistency. Funny then, that one of the biggest memories I will have of this era is just how consistently inconsistent his team has been.

But when all is said and done, I still firmly believe that this is something time and patience would have righted.

Now the merry-go-round starts again, as another promising manager attempts to cure our club’s seemingly intractable ails.


  1. An excellent and well documented comment. I agree, definatley to early to sack Hughes, progress has definatley been made, we should have been more patient. Look forward to more quality articles

  2. I read the book "Red Mist" on the Irish affair of going to the World Cup in 2002 and what is called the Saipan incident/affair with Roy Keane.

    This whole Hughes saga has to have a book or two in it, it is rivetting but above all so completely sour.

    The whole Chumps league that is aimed for, you know, I think that is part of the problem, exciting race this year, 2 Saturdays ago, there were 6 draws in 9 games, even the doormat of the PL, Portsmouth with Avram obviously has a chance now, so a good team or 2 or 3 are going to go down, not like the anchors in the past with Derby or Watford.

    Even MUFC falling 3-0 to Fulham, Chelsea's outings and of course, Liverpool's performances this year, certainly shows what a different year this is. Of course, those blips on the radar are going to happen but a 3-Nil loss and the likes?? Are way out of the ordinary.