Sam Wallace: Sheikh should avoid the madness of Madrid and stick with Hughes

Talking Football: Downgrading the importance of managers at clubs like Real is a poison in modern football
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The Independent Online

Busy week for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan: sooner or later his family, the ruling elite of Abu Dhabi, will have to decide whether they are to bail out their brash little Emirati brother Dubai that rests on the brink of financial collapse. Oh yes, and then there is the relatively minor matter of Manchester City and the future of the club's careworn manager.

As investments go, Manchester City, for the £200m or so that has been invested in players, is not at the front end of the Nahyan portfolio. To put it in perspective, the debt of Dubai is around £53bn and its perilous situation is pushing the world towards a potential second financial crisis. So forgive Sheikh Mansour if the ramifications of a home draw against Hull City are not his absolute priority right now.

But when all that desert sand settles, let us hope that the sheikh sees sense and does not dispose of Mark Hughes, his young manager currently staggering under the weight of expectation at City. For this is not just a crossroads for Hughes, whose side have drawn their last seven Premier League games, but it is also a crossroads for his club's stupendously wealthy owners.

The rise of the oil-rich states of the Middle East has been based on frantic nation building fuelled by their huge natural resources. What they seem to seek most as their cities rise from the sand is credibility; the kind of credibility that other more well-established world cities have earned over hundreds of years, not just hundreds of days. What Abu Dhabi lacks in history, it tries to make up for in its immense £420bn power to acquire.

Accordingly, what everyone expects Sheikh Mansour and his chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, to do in the face of a crisis of confidence at City is to solve the problem with money, just like they always have. To sack Hughes and pay off him and his sizeable staff. To pay a fortune to get Jose Mourinho or Guus Hiddink. Then pay another fortune in January, backing that new manager with new players sold at inflated prices.

But if Abu Dhabi, and its billionaire rulers really want to show that they belong at English football's top table, then they should consider it another way. If they want to prove that this is not just a crass experiment in blowing as much money as is humanly possible on a chaotic football club with a proud history of under-achievement, there is another option. Keep your money in your pocket, sheikh. Stick with Hughes.

The City manager is far from blameless in the run of results that leaves his team 11 points adrift of the leaders Chelsea. The form of some of his key signings, including Carlos Tevez, Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor, has tailed off badly. The City defence, for all the millions lavished on Joleon Lescott, Touré and Wayne Bridge, looks vulnerable. Richard Dunne, sold in the summer, is playing brilliantly for Aston Villa.

Yet if Sheikh Mansour and Mubarak sack Hughes, they will make a very depressing statement about where the power lies at the club. Sack Hughes and City will one be step down the path that the preposterous Real Madrid have taken, where all the power resides with superstar, multimillionaire footballers who never have to take the blame. Sack Hughes and City will make a clear statement that, in their eyes, the manager is dispensable. That he is the fall guy. That the man whose effectiveness relies on him having power over the dressing room in reality has no power at all. And as with Real Madrid, City may well discover that once they have sacked Hughes, they will be sacking his successor 10 months down the line.

The downgrading of the importance of the manager at clubs like Real Madrid is a poison in modern football. It is born of club owners having too much money and too little patience, of a basic misunderstanding of the dynamics of how a proper football club should work. It wilfully ignores the success of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger and the patience that has at times been extended to them by their clubs.

Hughes took over a club that had chronically underachieved since, well, since about 1977 when they came second in the old First Division. Last season he set about introducing a much tougher mindset to a club who, in managers such as Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson, have not exactly been ruled over with a rod of iron. Those who did not like it, such as Elano, were winkled out just as, more than 20 years earlier, Ferguson declared war on the drinking culture of a Manchester United team Hughes rejoined in 1988.

Building these foundations takes time and you cannot always measure the results. But if Sheikh Mansour is serious about buying, building and one day selling City at a profit – he is after all a private equity investor – he will not succeed unless he allows these major cultural changes to take place at City. Hughes is not just coaching the first XI, as a manager such as Mourinho would, he is trying to build a club and that takes time.

To succeed in that Hughes needs one thing above all from Sheikh Mansour. He needs the sheikh to demonstrate to City's collection of famous players that it is absolutely, fundamentally the manager who is the most important man at the club. And that it is the rest of them who are simply expendable.

Brown has to grin and bear the clowning

Phil Brown might think his players' lampooning of their manager in their goal celebration on Saturday was "comedy". Given the circumstances, he could hardly have publicly criticised them for doing it. That would only have made him look ridiculous.

But at the back of his mind, Brown must be wondering at what other club would the players be prepared to take the rise out of their manager so publicly? Manchester United? You must be joking. Everton? Fulham? Wolves? Stoke City? Don't think so. The managers don't take any messing. Brown can laugh it off but inside he must feel like crying.

All Dolled up in a mesmerising mess

OK, OK, so we had the Merseyside derby, Arsenal v Chelsea and Barcelona v Real Madrid, but what really made it Super Sunday was Morrissey on BBC Radio Four picking out his favourite tracks on Desert Island Discs.

"Nothing comforts me at all," he said in that idiosyncratically jolly Mancunian voice of his. "The world is a mesmerising mess and human beings are mesmerisingly messy." But that's enough about England's 2018 World Cup bid, Mozza, what about the New York Dolls?

Parker worth fresh chance

Scott Parker was outstanding for West Ham against Burnley on Saturday. Sadly, he will always be tainted by his role in England's defeat to Croatia in Zagreb in 2006 but, should injuries plague Fabio Capello, he is worth another try.

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