The Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook went back on the offensive yesterday, stating that he had examined, before this season had even started, which alternative managers might be available as part of the club's "scenario planning" if Mark Hughes failed to meet expectations.
The Independent can reveal that Cook had a two-hour meeting with Hughes two days after the 2-1 win over the league leaders Chelsea on 5 December, during which the chief executive made it clear that he was considering other managerial options. Hughes, who had asked for the meeting at Eastlands amid rumours about his own future, is understood to have left the meeting on cordial terms with Cook. His players were to fail him twice more before Roberto Mancini was signed, 12 days later.
But Cook's preparations for the possibility of Hughes failing to meet Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan's expectations had begun in the summer when he and his chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak were "looking at the managers who could be available in a World Cup year, and those who might definitely be available", he has now revealed.
Cook believes that what passes for good business planning in any other organisation should also apply to the world of football – though his decision to reveal as much in such detail is extraordinary. "We did our scenario planning, mapping out the season, the results we were seeking and in those plans we looked at the options open to us if we were in a position when we needed to look for a new manager before Christmas," he said. "Even at that point we looked at the managers who could be available in a World Cup year, and those who might definitely be available. We had no intention of replacing Mark Hughes – but surely as a business we are entitled to examine all the options?"
Cook made a statistical justification for removing Hughes that does not hold water, when he also criticised him yesterday for his suggestion that the pre-agreed 70-point target should equate to a sixth-place finish. "It was a touch circumspect of Mark to leave us saying [that]. No club since 1995 has finished below fourth place with 70 points," Cook said. Last season, 70 points would have seen City trail fourth-placed Arsenal by two points.
"The key message is that we do not have to apologise for our actions," Cook continued. "We have nothing to apologise for." He believes that the reporting of Mancini's inaugural press conference, during which the Italian unwittingly spoke of an early December meeting with Sheikh Mansour in London, which Cook had not detailed, represents a "shafting" of the new manager by dint of his limited grasp of English, and hinted that he is considering legal action.
"Roberto has been caught up in a language issue; in truth he has been shafted," Cook said. "From our point of view it is important that the fans know the facts and the way we have acted in the best interests of the club. We are livid that the media has taken a little information and misinterpreted it and that Roberto has been caught up in the crossfire. We feel that we have been falsely represented and in the interests of the club we are prepared to do something about it, and we are in the process of looking into it."
The point of contention is the disclosure of a meeting held in London on or around 2 December – something that Cook came closest to disclosing when he said on Monday that "the decision to look at managerial options was taken only three weeks ago after the Hull game" – a 1-1 draw, around four days before the first Mancini meeting. It was left to Mancini to reveal the full detail: a meeting in London between himself and Sheikh Mansour, who never ventured to Manchester to see a match in the Mark Hughes era.
As the aftermath of the Hughes sacking continued to cloud the club yesterday, Mancini discovered that his own defensive personnel problems had suddenly became even more difficult. Nedum Onuoha, like Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge, will be absent until January having strained a calf during Hughes' valedictory win over Sunderland and may be missing until the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Manchester United. Lescott's recovery time might be the same.
Emmanuel Adebayor limped out of Mancini's double training session yesterday with ankle trouble and Shaun Wright-Phillips has the same complaint ahead of the Boxing Day home match with Stoke City, which means that Adebayor may not play for Mancini until late January. Both Adebayor and club captain Kolo Touré are expected to leave Manchester after the Stoke game to join up with the Togo and Ivory Coast squads respectively for the African Nations Cup.
Mancini observed at his inaugural press conference that injuries were more of a problem than the pressure of the job and Onuoha's problem leaves him likely to have Vincent Kompany partnering Touré against the aerial threat of Stoke, and the defence for the 28 December visit to Wolverhampton Wanderers looks likely to be Kompany and Micah Richards – hardly a rearguard made in heaven for an Italian manager.
It seems unlikely that Hughes will bring an unfair dismissal claim against City. The League Managers' Association has engaged barrister Paul Gilroy QC, who overseas LMA cases from all levels of the game, to negotiate a severance deal.
The LMA is understood to have taken a dim view of Hughes' dismissal though would not comment while the case is being concluded. "I'm sure Manchester City have learned some lessons in the past few weeks," LMA Chief executive Richard Bevan said last night.
Cook in quotes: Soundbites from City's chief executive
"Is he a nice guy? Yes. Is he a great guy to play golf with? Yes. Has he got the finances to run a club? Yes. I really care about those three things."
On Thaksin Shinawatra, August 2008
"We travelled yesterday with good intentions and they bottled it."
On the Kaka fiasco last January
"If we don't get Kaka it is not the end of the world, we got Craig Bellamy."
"China and India are gagging for football content to watch and we're going to tell them that City is their content. We need a superstar to get through that door. Richard Dunne doesn't roll off the tongue in Beijing."
August 2008. Twelve months later Dunne was sold.
"I'd like to welcome Uwe Rösler into the Manchester United hall of fame."
At a 60th anniversary dinner for the official supporters club at Eastlands last month
"Sir Alex is one of the legends of our game and it's interesting that he has been so vocal about a poster. But this club has a personality. Comedy has always been at the heart of it."
Last month. Defending the Carlos Tevez "Welcome to Manchester" poster