James Lawton: City wise up to Hughes' theory of evolution

Gareth Barry's arrival at Eastlands signals a turning point for the world's richest club, as star-struck revolution gives way to a more considered new order

Now Manchester City are really talking, seriously that is and to the point where the ill-judged move for Kaka in January can be consigned to somewhere back among the dangers of the learning curve.

It can go, along with all those other misadventures which so often happen when a vast and unexpected windfall is seen as the banker foundation of a successful football team, when assorted magnates and businessmen, not to mention glorified shirt salesmen, believe they know something about the game which left Sir Alex Ferguson, after 50-odd active and brilliant years, as confused and dismayed as a raw apprentice a few days ago in Rome.

City wanted the Brazilian, who now appears to be heading to Real Madrid as the deposed masters of the Spanish game lunge towards another galacticos phase under the loony-tune command of returning president Florentino Perez, as a world-record-priced short cut to glamour status and, presumably, serious competition.

They know better now. They know the Kaka affair, and its excruciatingly embarrassing denouement, was nothing so much as an extension of the equally madcap belief of previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra that you could throw £40-odd million at someone like Sven Goran Eriksson, have him make a few phone calls and flick through a video or two, and come up with instant contenders.

To be fair to Eriksson, he did a lot better than was anticipated in many quarters, and certainly this one, but by the end of his one and only season last year the verdict was in. Eriksson, while sharply improving entertainment levels, hadn't been making a team but an illusion of one.

For City fans for whom that was just another cycle of the failure, if not outright despair, since the days Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison galvanised the club in the mid-Sixties, and built a team piece by piece, it has to be a major reassurance that the current owner appears finally to be listening to his manager, Mark Hughes.

The word is that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan was anxious to establish City's ranking as the world's richest football club, a fact that apparently needed more immediate and unanswerable underpinning than merely beating Chelsea to the luxury signing of Robinho.

Kaka didn't happen and, whatever his public statements, the old pro Hughes cannot have been too mortified. Of course he could have used Kaka – who couldn't with half a football wit? – but he didn't need the distorting focus of such a huge leap beyond the club's stage of progress. A Kaka is a crowning move, a celebration of a point of development when a club – and a dressing room – can handle the natural evolution of a team which comes with real progress.

It happened, of course, when Allison supplied Mercer with his shopping list all those years ago; the priceless veteran Tony Book had been brought in, and resident players like Mike Doyle, Glynn Pardoe and Alan Oakes – a marvellous force in the new City who in the old one was so insecure he would break into a sweat before going out on the field – had grown dramatically in confidence, when the big coach made his moves.

Allison then signalled it was time to increase his resources and the signings of Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee and Colin Bell – at a cost of slightly more than £100,000 – provided the cornerstones of a relatively brief but brilliant empire.

Hughes clearly believes he has reached the same point of take-off, and if his priority shopping bill, which already includes the £12m cost of Gareth Barry, will be stretching towards £60m if he also lands Carlos Tevez and Samuel Eto'o, no one can accuse him of impulse buying.

Kaka surely came into that category. You might say it was a thrilling initiative, but the pressures it would have imposed on the manager in trying to integrate such a refined talent into an ill-formed team was hauntingly predictable.

Now we can see the clearest pattern. If Eto'o can be prised away from Barcelona by a pot of gold from the sheikh, City answer the most pressing question that has faced them in recent years. When, with the departure of Nicolas Anelka in 2005, were they ever going to find the firepower consistent with serious ambition?

Tevez, too, is an investment of self-evident soundness. His contribution at West Ham was the difference between that club's survival in the top flight and the possibility of some vertiginous descent into the football wilderness. Tevez, above all, is a worker, a strong and always visible heart – a most vital ingredient of any team moving upwards.

And already there is Barry. He belongs in another universe to that of Kaka, of course, but as the practised eye of Fabio Capello has seen, he is the kind of player who gives a reforming team the precious qualities of discipline and substance.

When Hughes was charged with producing football of sometimes rough physicality at Blackburn, he snapped at his accuser, "Well, it's tough playing great football with limited resources – give me £30m or £40m and I'll see what I can do."

He has been given all of that and more now – plus the time properly to identify his most pressing needs. He has gone for a solid presence at the back of midfield and the possibility of striking potential of the highest quality. Just as importantly, it seems, he has been given the time to make his own team at his own pace.

It means that in the blizzard of transfer speculation, and so many proposed moves that seem as random as the purchase of a lottery ticket, there looks to be at least one club marked by a degree of certainty. Nothing is guaranteed in football, of course, but then there are a few laws which are broken only at grave peril. One is that you always give a manager – a real manager at least – the time to decide where his team needs to be going. You give him the required resources. Then, nobody needs to tell Mark Hughes, the options come down to just two – the glory or the sack.

The £100m spending spree: Hughes' signings so far

* Pablo Zabaleta £6.45m, Espanyol, August 2008. Struggled at right-back, but the Argentine has found form as a holding midfielder.

* Robinho £32.5m, Real Madrid, September 2008. Signed from under the noses of Chelsea on deadline day last summer, the Brazilian has been mercurial at home but anonymous away.

* Craig Bellamy £14m, West Ham, January 2009. Admired by Mark Hughes from their time at Blackburn, the volatile striker has once again struggled with injuries, scoring only twice in the Premier League.

* Nigel de Jong £17m, Hamburg, January. Caught the eye with his performances for the Netherlands in Euro 2008, and the defensive midfielder seems at home in the Premier League.

* Shay Given £8m, Newcastle, February. One of the league's most consistent keepers has picked up where he left off with Newcastle. Looks to be very good value for money.

* Wayne Bridge £12m, Chelsea, February. Always behind Ashley Cole at Chelsea, the England left-back has been solid without being spectacular. Should get better next season.

* Gareth Barry £12m, Aston Villa, June. With most people expecting another Anfield saga this summer, the Villa captain earned a shock move to Eastlands. Hughes will have been delighted with the signing and hope it will herald the arrival of others with a similar calibre.

Total spent: £101.95m

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game