City close on Rovers' Hughes after Eriksson finally sacked

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Manchester City hope to appoint Mark Hughes as a replacement for Sven Goran Eriksson by tomorrow, with the uncertainty presented by the vacant Chelsea position a key factor in their determination to conclude a rapid deal.

City's new executive chairman, Garry Cook, whose appointment was officially approved by the club's board yesterday, will fly into Britain from the US today to help conclude a deal – though there are hints that Blackburn Rovers are prepared to frustrate City, whose chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, also wants to get down to business immediately. Rovers have made clear they will not permit City to speak to Hughes until the terms of the estimated £5m compensation they would seek to receive are settled.

A pay-off for Blackburn – where Sam Allardyce, who is known to be interested, is the front-runner to succeed Hughes – seems a formality, however. In the highly unlikely event of Hughes being enticed to Chelsea, Roberto Mancini – whose 17-year-old son, Filippo, is in City's academy – has emerged as a serious second choice contender having been deposed yesterday by Jose Mourinho's arrival at Internazionale. Thaksin Shinawatra has given up on the prospect of securing Luis Felipe Scolari's services.

Avram Grant is considered a more likely contender than either Scolari or Brazilian Zico, whose name has also been in the frame. But Hughes seems to be City's man, with Blackburn confirming in a statement issued hours after City confirmed Eriksson's departure that the Welshman "would like the opportunity" to speak to the club.

Hughes signed a two-year contract extension at Ewood Park last summer which includes an extra 12-month rolling contract and Rovers would, therefore, receive two years' compensation. But the pay-off would increase on the grounds that Hughes wants to bring a four-man backroom team with him: his assistant, Mark Bowen, reserve team coach, Glyn Hodges, and the former Chelsea goalkeepers Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kevin Hitchcock.

Eriksson was long gone, yesterday. He left Manchester last week, soon after leading City home from a post-season tour of Thailand during which he concluded severance negotiations with the club's chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh. A sticking point is understood to have been Eriksson's request for £500,000 for seeing City into the Uefa Cup, under the terms of his contract. A compromise is understood to have been reached, with Thaksin firmly of the view that City's entry via the Fair Play league did not warrant full payment.

Hughes will almost certainly have a new signing, CSKA Moscow's £18m Brazilian forward Jo, if he joins and Thaksin also seems intent on pursuing his interest in Ronaldinho, a player who Eriksson counselled against buying.

Such prospects can only embitter those at Blackburn who now face the unenviable task of finding a manager capable of building on the seventh spot Hughes achieved. Favourites after Allardyce – who has cut short a family holiday in Spain to return to England – include Alan Shearer, whose 34 goals took Blackburn to the Premiership title 12 years ago, Zenit St Petersburg's Dick Advocaat and Celtic's Gordon Strachan. Steve McClaren would also be interested.

Former Manchester United players do not have a happy history of taking over at City. Steve Coppell, the last of them, quit after six games and 33 days in charge, after his arrival from Crystal Palace in 1996. But fans' groups were yesterday remembering the way Matt Busby guided United after his illustrious pre-war playing career with City and the first impression among fans was that Hughes' arrival would compensate them a little for a sacking they have opposed.

Hughes seems to have been aware of City's potential interest when he spoke last week of his desire to manage a bigger side. He will simply need to be convinced that the way Eriksson has been treated after a season during which, when all is said and done, he delivered City to a top 10 finish and their highest Premier League points tally, does not augur badly.

A clearer picture of how Eriksson's relationship with Thaksin broke down emerged yesterday. Thaksin appears to have been affronted by suggestions from Eriksson that his captain Richard Dunne had been refused a new contract when there had been a general agreement that the player's requests had been unacceptable.

That disagreement, several months ago, coincided with a dire run of form which saw the talk of a Champions League place which had persisted until just before Christmas turn to dust. City's non-Thai executives impressed upon Thaksin, during the club's recent Thailand tour, that it was not too late to change his mind about Eriksson's future. But Eriksson was, according to sources, "99.9 per cent certain" that he would be sacked when he accepted the humiliation of the tour, to ensure that his £1m pay-off was protected.

Eriksson now seems destined for the Mexican national job, and the Swede was in Mexico last night ahead of two days of talks with the national federation. He is understood to be attracted by their history of World Cup qualification.

Even those loyal to Eriksson in the City hierarchy agree that the Swede's purchases last summer were mixed. Rolando Bianchi (£8.8m) was one of several strikers who didn't work. Benjani Mwaruwari is another and Nery Castillo looks too frail to cut it. Elano, the Premier League's supreme talent in August and September, has not delivered much since, with Martin Petrov the most consistent performer.

Sources at City point out that any successor will have a larger slice of close season to build on than Eriksson did. But the Swede's departure proves that the new manager's task is an unenviable one.

Big Sam to Super Al: Possible Rovers recruits


Since leaving Newcastle in January, he has been working as a pundit. But he would surely relish the chance to resume his managerial career with a team whose work ethic matches Big Sam's former Bolton side.


While his career at Manchester City was unsatisfactory, his sterling work with England Under-21s, as well as assisting Fabio Capello with the seniors, suggests that Rovers could do worse than snap him up.


Well, you never know. His heart appears to lie at St James' Park, but he has never ruled out management and appears to be biding his time. A return to the scene of former glories on the pitch might just appeal.