Sam Wallace: In betraying Hughes, City have opted for quick returns over lasting legacy
Monday 21 December 2009
Stabbed in the back and left alone to take his medicine: the brutal disposal of Mark Hughes on Saturday night was as undignified and unpleasant a sacking as there has been in recent memory.
In the space of one afternoon, Manchester City became a very different club. The kind of club who leave their struggling manager marooned on the touchline while the news of his demise spreads around the stadium. The kind of club who allow their manager to absorb his own fate in the full glare of the television cameras while his successor has already been anointed.
Every step of the way on Saturday, City got it wrong. First, they made Hughes wait until after the win over Sunderland to learn his fate officially, although he, like everyone else, had known the truth for a lot longer.
Second, and with extraordinary crassness, City judged half-time as the ideal moment to disclose that there would be a 7.30pm "announcement" on Hughes' future just to ensure his humiliation was complete.
As for Hughes, he was so certain of what was coming that he took legal advice before the game and was told he was best served by carrying on until City sacked him. He should never have been put in that position as the delegation of City players protesting at his treatment pointed out.
No matter how you judge the merits of Hughes' record at City, or the arguments for and against keeping him, his sacking was a despicable affair, presided over by City's Garry Cook and Brian Marwood – perhaps the Brian Potter and Jerry St Clair of Premier League football executives. You would scarcely put them in charge of a working men's club in Bolton, let alone the wealthiest football club in the world.
Cook talked a lot of nonsense when he first joined City as chief executive and the sympathetic view was that he was just one more corporate drone who had mistaken his marketing manual for the basic tenets of civilisation. But it turns out that Cook is the kind of chief exec who does not just sack managers but hangs them out to dry. He has decided to skip today's press conference to introduce Mancini.
As for Marwood, no one is really sure what he does under the title of "football administrator", created because Hughes vetoed him being titled "director of football". But in the true tradition of directors of football everywhere – Avram Grant, Damien Comolli et al – he too has played a full role in the unseemly disposal of a manager without any of the equivalent scrutiny upon himself.
Hughes' end on Saturday night had echoes of the appallingly handled sacking of Martin Jol in 2007 when the Tottenham manager stood in his dugout during his final game against Getafe in the Uefa Cup as the news of his sacking spread around White Hart Lane. Then, as with City now, Spurs conspired to ensure that the man who was losing his job was the last to know.
When City drew with Hull last month, Hughes sought assurances from the board that the reports that said he was on his way out were not true. That was the time for the club to tell their manager that if results did not change then he would find himself in trouble. Sacking a manager is never easy but it has to be done quickly and honestly. Instead, they told him his job was safe, although that was evidently not the case.
In the past, City have occasionally been the authors of their own misfortune, but at least you knew where you stood with them. Before Thaksin Shinawatra bought the club, they had John Wardle, a chairman who was not blessed with the fortune of Sheikh Mansour but was a decent bloke who even managed an amicable parting with Kevin Keegan.
And what have City got themselves for the trouble? Mancini: a manager that most big clubs in Europe have looked at since his departure from Internazionale last year and decided that they could do better. He was the driving force in linking himself to Chelsea when Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked but there was no real interest from the club. Not even Tottenham considered him as an alternative to Juande Ramos.
It has long been a personal view that, despite some undeniably bad results, Hughes deserved time at City because he was attempting to make profound changes at the club. Hughes was trying to rebuild from the bottom up, starting with the academy. He was embarking on the same difficult rebuilding job that Sir Alex Ferguson began 23 years ago at Manchester United and in order to do so he required time.
Now City have made the decision to rip it up and start again, although you would hazard a guess that Mancini is not going to spend too much time worrying about the youth teams. He is another manager who regards himself as primarily a coach and will probably see City as a springboard to a more glamorous club, rather than, as Hughes regarded it, an opportunity to build a new force in English football.
Last word to Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor, who both disgraced themselves against Spurs last week and were dropped by Hughes on Saturday. What did they learn this weekend? That when things go wrong it is the manager who cops it, not the stroppy, underperforming players. That is the kind of club City have become, one where the most important man of all, the manager, is also the most dispensable.
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