When, by Tuesday night, it became apparent that Roman Abramovich did not see his club's former striker as the man to galvanise last season's serial runners-up, Mark Hughes had a simple decision to make. Should he, as the saying goes in Thailand, birthplace of Manchester City's owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, escape from the tiger and into the crocodile? Should he opt for what amounts to Chelsea Lite, with that similar insistence on instant success; the promise of significant investment to back the procurement of key personnel; world-class players sought (and one already bought) with the new manager in absentia; and the installation of a high-profile executive chairman as a go-between for manager and foreign owner?
Hughes duly placed his head where others would have run scared from, because he comprehends the volatility of football management, that you have to respond to opportunities when your stock is high. Though the demands on the Welshman are somewhat less than they would have been at Stamford Bridge, so is the quality of squad he has inherited and the level of financial backing at City.
The relative expectation, however, will be no less intense. Uefa Cup qualification next season is the least of Thaksin's demands. When he says pointedly, "I am 59 next birthday, so I am not a man who can wait for many years to see my dreams come true," it carries with it an implied threat that nothing less than delivery of a top-six placing followed by Champions' League qualification within the two seasons after that will suffice.
There is a wealth of difference between punching above your weight, as Hughes did with Wales initially and then at Ewood Park, glowing accolades resulting, and being ready to rumble among the League's big-hitters. He could end up badly bruised by the experience, or worse.
He could still end up "across the road", where Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to leave a vacancy in three years' time. City's new executive chairman, Garry Cook, conceded that the subject had arisen during negotiations with Hughes, but added: "You don't build a dynasty on the basis of what might happen. You build on what's right today."
Hughes clearly felt he should seize the moment. "There was a frustration there [at Blackburn] from my point of view that, although the chairman [John Williams] and the board gave me every support, which was key to the success we had there, he was realistic and honest with me that he couldn't give me £10m, £15m or £20m to go out and spend on players. It was never going to happen. There was talk about takeovers and maybe that would have helped the situation, but they weren't forthcoming and I knew that there would come a point if the right opportunity presented itself to me then I would have to move."
He added: "At Blackburn, there was possibly more pressure on me to get the decisions right because I had less money. So every one of my big purchases, like Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz, had to be correct." There will be an estimated £50m at his disposal, maybe more. Yet Hughes will need no reminding that ninth place could not save Sven Goran Eriksson. He is also acutely aware that Thaksin, like Abramovich, takes a highly personal interest in acquisitions.
The Brazilian striker Jo is bound for City for a reported £18m from CSKA Moscow. If Thaksin gets his way, Ronaldinhowill join him from Barcelona for an alleged salary of £200,000 a week. "It is not a risk. Sponsors will contribute. It will notdamage our wage structure," explained the owner. Cook, who has spent the past 12 years with Nike in the US, is utilising those contacts to expedite what, at first sight, appears an unlikely move.
If a deal is agreed, it could provide the first test of Hughes' s insistence on managerial autonomy. "Possibly the chairman wants a signature signing and there may be players like that out there who may be available, but it has to be a football decision," Hughes said, though he swiftly added: "I don't think we are as far down the line as people might think with certain targets."
Cook speaks like a man who has spent too many years Stateside when he says of City's £3m-a-year managerial recruit: "He knows there's a lot of runway here for him, whereas at other clubs he may not have had that runway." City's 15th manager in 25 years must now ensure that he does not crash and burn in the attempt.
No brolly yet but delusion has begun
Well, it did not take long for the first spots of rain to fall on Fabio Capello's glorious garden of expectation, did it? Admittedly, scepticism goes with the job when you are being paid£6 million a year to address such a stark omission as England's failure to win a major tournament for 42 years.
The admirable CV the manager arrived with makes it unlikely that he will need to borrow his predecessor's celebrated brolly yet. But it is somewhat troubling that the Italian already appears to be developing that perennial England managerial habit of self-delusion. Of course, it is necessary to indulge in some "bigging-up" of the boys whose confidence was apparently shattered after the McClaren months. But what do we make of his view that "we have played four games, and every game we have played better"? Or this, in an interview with FourFourTwo magazine: "Compared to what they were doing in previous years – everyone's trying to play the ball now: giocare la palla." Well, you could have fooled this observer. Even against poor opposition, his men were still guilty of squandering possession.
Still, Capello claims to have identified 16 players "at the same level" capable of World Cup qualification. And two years on Wednesday, when the World Cup starts in South Africa, England followers may be reflecting on a revitalised team prepared to do battle. But it will surely be without David Beckham.
Which makes it all the more bewildering why, on Sunday, we still had the Major League Soccer player participating, and as captain, a role he took it upon himself to relinquish almost two years ago. Expediency, say some, with England's bid to host 2018 in mind. Others may suggest that 10 September and a match against Croatia were a touch more pressing than a PR gesture.
Pyrrhic victory but Mosley's time is up
Max Mosley has adopted Mrs Patrick Campbell's attitude to sexual mores: "I don't care what they do, as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses." Mosley claims he indulged in acts which were "legal, harmless and consensual". A perverse logic dictates that he should not resign his presidency of the FIA, the ruling body of Formula One, after a 17-year stint in which he has contributed much towards track and road safety. One can understand to an extent his refusal to bow before his judges and would-be red-top executioners. Yet the surprising level of support for him, 103 votes against 55, from automobile clubs around the world on Tuesday was a pyrrhic victory. He may not have wanted his peccadillos brought to public attention, but he cannot rewind the clock. He is weakened by the fallout ofan affair that heaped ridicule on the FIA. When too many clubs oppose his continuation, when certain nations' rulers will not deal with him, histime is up. He has fought loudly. He should nowdepart quietly.Reuse content