"And on the sixth day God created Manchester City". That is what it says on the banner they place on the club's East Stand balcony. It was at eye level from the seat the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, took up last night but the thoughts which will have consumed him concern the years it might take for mere mortals, even those with millions to spend, to reconstruct this club.
City exited the Uefa Cup with a win and with some great spirit on a night of high emotion which will help preserve the job of Mark Hughes and which provided a tantalising glimpse of what the promised land might one day bring. The City manager spent three hours yesterday afternoon with Mubarak, who did not arrive at the stadium until 3.30pm, and together they mapped out plans for the future. "I'm still here [in a job] and I'm fine," Hughes said. It is felt that the atmosphere in a stadium near its 48,000 capacity has helped Hughes, whose club have done him a favour by ensuring, immediately after victory in the last round again Aalborg, that Mubarak was here to experience the quarter-final atmosphere.
Among the subtleties lost on Mubarak, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan's personal representative, is that the individual who did most to stoke up the noise is one so far removed from Hughes' chosen few. The Brazilian Elano is an awkward individual who only played because of Shaun Wright-Phillips' unavailability but his performance - singled out as "outstanding" by Hughes - shows that those who do not always play things the manager's way can sometimes do the job. While Stephen Ireland, the individual who has railed against others' lack of effort last week, was curiously muted amid the cacophony of noise, Elano was busily thumping a free-kick which reverberated against the Hamburg bar and cracking another against the outside of the post.
After the disquiet caused by Fulham's 3-1 win on Sunday, the only boos directed at Hughes last night came when he pulled him from the field five minutes before time. The manager was careful to applaud a player adored by Eastlands, if not by him. It was a good night for the Brazilians all round; Robinho worked well with his compatriot to prove himself a little more worthy of that £160,000 a week, too.
A 15-minute spell after the interval might be the one which does most to help Hughes live to fight another day. City were behind after 12 minutes when Richard Dunne failed to cope with the low cross which the Peruvian Paolo Guerrero stabbed into the net ahead of Vincent Kompany but level from an Elano penalty five minutes later when Piotr Trochowski was adjudged to have handled the Brazilian's free-kick when it actually hit his shoulder. After that they simply refused to allow their season to vanish.
What sound and fury issued from Hughes' side in that period. Felipe Caicedo, another player you probably would not lay any of your £100m on in a game of fantasy football, popped up as he has intermittently since Christmas to drag an Ireland pass past Jerome Boateng and thump it in with his right boot. But he also directed a low Elano corner which evaded the visitors' entire defence over the bar with the net yawning. When the Ecuadorian striker finally put the ball in - latching onto another beautiful pass from Elano - he was adjudged offside, as he was 10 times last night.
Even Rome wasn't built in 10 days, though Hughes captured his side's spirit afterwards. "We will take encouragement from this performance," he said. "We needed to make a statement, to come out and show there are things happening here. We are at the beginning of a long journey."
But the cold reality is that, for all the £100m thrown at it, City's season is over in mid-April and the Abu Dhabis face a long, hard summer persuading big names to join a club without so much as Europa League football next season in all likelihood. "The significance of Europe isn't as great as people are making out," Hughes insisted. Perhaps the significance of the big names isn't either.
Martin Jol, whose side progress to an all-German semi-final with Werder Bremen and a possible domestic league and cup double, rejoiced at having won "at a club who've spent £30m on two of our players" [Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong] and Hughes' priority is to build a team of earthy footballing qualities like his. For starters, he needs a captain who does not get sent off four times in a year - Dunne's two yellows, the second for barging over substitute Mladen Petric, were justified. There were two gilt-edged chances for City after Dunne's departure - Micah Richards ballooning one over - but it was not to be. Six days? This job will take many, many months.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge; Zabaleta (Fernandes, 77), Kompany; Elano (Sturridge, 85), Ireland, Robinho; Caicedo. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Garrido, Petrov, Evans, Logan.
Hamburg (4-4-2): Rost; Boateng, Gravgaard, Mathijsen, Jansen; Trochowski (Petric, 73), Jarolim, Aogo, Pitroipa; Olic, Guerrero. Substitutes not used: Hesl (gk), Silva, Ndjeng, Rincon, Schulz, Torun.
Referee: N Rizzoli (Italy).
* German and Ukrainian teams make up the last four in the Uefa Cup, with Werder Bremen facing Hamburg in the semi-finals, while Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk both went through to set up another domestic showdown. The Brazilian playmaker Diego scored twice, as he did in the quarter-final first leg, to help Werder draw 3-3 with Udinese in Italy to record a 6-4 aggregate victory.Reuse content