Hughes puts Uefa Cup triumph on City's climb
Manager keen to further Blues' development by ending long wait for a trophy
The history of the Uefa Cup is littered with managers, from Rafael Benitez and Juande Ramos to Sir Alex Ferguson, who won it and went on to greatness. It is just a shame that Mark Hughes, who goes in renewed pursuit of his first trophy in management as Manchester City fly the British flag in the tournament tonight, is too afraid of heaping yet more hubris on the club to admit just how much he covets it. "We're not going to shout from the rooftops we're going to win the competition," Hughes said yesterday, when asked how important it would be to him to lift any cup as a manager.
Winning the tournament, and before that progressing beyond AaB Aalborg, the second Danish side City have encountered in the knockout stage, goes beyond personal reputations, though. City might be the last British side in the tournament by default, with Aston Villa willing to field a weakened side against CSKA Moscow in the last round to pursue a Champions League spot and Tottenham too busy fighting relegation from the Premier League to be bothered with it. However, a triumph in Istanbul come May has the potential to strip them of their hapless image as a side who alway conspires to mess things up and who will always be talking about Newcastle United, Wembley, 1976. The banner at Old Trafford which poked fun at the number of years since City last won a trophy was removed for February 2008's derby match but is back now: "33 years" it currently reads, recalling that League Cup win in the Dennis Tueart era.
Hughes has gone to great lengths and incurred serious unpopularity in some quarters at Eastlands to imbue his side with what he calls a "winning mentality", something Robinho has also said he feels City lack. For Hughes that means stripping away years of poor match preparation and cultural flabbiness at City, as he sees it. But a trophy would be a fundamental part of the club's cultural development; a staging post on the bigger Manchester City journey.
"Winning a trophy brings many things to a club," Hughes said. "It gives you an understanding of what it takes to be successful. It changes the mentality of players, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively if you think you are going to do it every year. There are things that you have to be mindful of and you have to hit the same standards year on year – that is what the top clubs are able to do."
A top-seven finish in the league appears to be more important to Hughes' reputation than winning this trophy, though there are signs around the club that he will, barring disasters, still be in place for next season. The City chief executive, Garry Cook, was adamant at a fans' forum on Tuesday night that the Welshman would be in charge next season and won applause from the floor for saying so.
The future of Robinho looks less certain and Hughes will be expecting significant performances from him if City are to progress. The Brazilian has returned from a brief trip back to South America having apparently recovered from the ankle injury that kept him out of last week's impressive win over Aston Villa. "At times Robinho gets overly criticised," Hughes said. "When we have not played well away from home, he seems to get the brunt of it because he is one of our most high-profile players. But people have to take into account that he is one of our more creative and attack-minded players and teams will try to make sure he doesn't have a positive impact."
Hughes' planning has been hit by the toe injury that threatens Vincent Kompany's participation at Eastlands tonight and since Nigel de Jong is not registered and Dietmar Hamann is a long-term absentee, he may be forced to call on Gelson Fernandes in midfield. That said, with the major threats in the tournament coming from Marseilles and Shakhtar Donetsk, whom City would consider beatable, they can afford private, if not public, confidence. "This club should have won more trophies or been competing at a level to be able to think they could win," Hughes concluded.
Manchester City (probable) (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Onuoha, Dunne, Bridge; Zabaleta, Kompany; Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Robinho; Caicedo.
AaB Aalborg (probable) (4-5-1): Zaza; Bogelund, Waehler, Beauchamp, Jakobsen; Enevoldsen, Augustinussen, Caca, Johansson, Due; Shelto.
Number of years since Manchester City last won a major trophy – the League Cup in 1976.
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