"Some might say," the banner at Eastlands read yesterday, quoting Manchester City fans Oasis, "we will find a brighter day". Many more will say, after the shabby sacking of Mark Hughes, that they do not deserve to.
It is too much to expect that owners with no background in English football or any other kind should feel shame at dismissing a manager who has lost fewer games than any other this season in what is generally regarded as the toughest League in the world. That, and his replacement by the watching Roberto Mancini after 18 months in the job, merely confirm two of the worst trends in the domestic game: importing the short-termism that afflicts coaches in Italy and Spain, where two years in the same job virtually qualifies for a long-service award; and the obsession with celebrity "big names", preferably foreign ones.
What can only be hoped is that there are City players staring at either the mirror or their pay-slip this morning and asking about their own contribution. Yesterday Hughes displayed the ruthlessness he might have shown earlier by dropping Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor, two players acquired at a cost of £59m in transfer fees alone, whose performances at Tottenham on Wednesday night were a disgrace. If the writing was on the wall for the manager when his strikers failed to take sufficient chances and his almost equally expensive (and well-paid) defenders made regular errors during the recent series of seven successive draws, the letters only became screaming capitals and then shrieking headlines at White Hart Lane. Less than a fortnight after deservedly beating the League leaders Chelsea, City were as limp as they had been vibrant 11 days earlier.
But to sit directly behind the crowded ranks of City coaches, substitutes and support staff – one of whom, a little-known "technical director" was even in the second row of the press box – was to observe the essential powerless of any man other than those on the far side of the white line. What could Hughes do other than throw up his arms as Spurs were allowed to play a short corner with two men against one defender, no team-mate having the wit to even up the numbers? Any self-respecting coach in the local park today would expect his players to react more sharply. Making exaggerated arm movements to suggest that Adebayor might consider breaking into a trot from time to time had no effect, while Robinho showed his team spirit after being substituted by disappearing straight down the tunnel.
Does this mean they were the wrong players to sign; or perhaps that even Hughes had fallen prey to the culture of celebrity signings encouraged by those at the club who seemed to take it as a personal affront when Kaka declined an invitation to join the circus?
Some might say the brighter day is a step closer this morning. Others will say that 19 December was a bad day not merely for Manchester City but for football itself.Reuse content