Mark Hughes has defended Manchester City's descent into the relegation zone, declaring that he is seeking to change the fundamental culture of a club which had left it "nowhere near where it needed to be" to mount a realistic challenge in the Premier League.
Hughes, who believes his January signings will have an "almost immediate" impact and that his Arab owners will not sack him because, as he put it, "they are not as hysterical as other people seem to be at this moment in time," suggested before today's awkward encounter with Hull City that preparations for matches were too laid back when he arrived at the club from Blackburn Rovers in June.
"There's been big change here on and off the field and they were changes that needed to be made," Hughes said. "You can't just stand still and think that things you've done ten, 15 years ago are going to work ten, 15 years in the future. We needed to get up to speed... in terms of preparations for games and the way they prepared on a daily basis. We are addressing [this] on a daily basis."
Hughes' disciplinarian regime contrasts sharply with the brief Sven Goran Eriksson era and it is that which is understood to have caused friction with some of the players the new manager inherited. Hughes pulled no punches about what he feels he took on in east Manchester. "You can't play well for one week have two weeks off and build for another game in three weeks which has may have been the case in the past," he said. He also admitted that some of his players had not accepted his ways: "Some players can work with change and be able to change quickly other players find it very difficult, that's just human nature."
Two games in four days will reveal more about whether Hughes can pull off the huge task of changing the fundamental culture of his club whilst maintaining his Arab owners' faith that he – a man hired in the Thaksin Shinawtra era – is the man with whom to entrust their January transfer budget. Hughes might contend that after four managers in seven years at City something tougher is necessary.
He maintains a hard line against those who argue that talking up the promise of the transfer window is debilitating to the current squad and he does not appear to accept that his markedly negative talk about the Eriksson era – he dismissed City's good start to last season as something "everyone in football knew wasn't going to be sustainable" – will have a negative impact on Richard Dunne, Darius Vassell and others who contributed to it. "They are professional footballers and have to have the mentality that the club is going places," Hughes said.
It remains unclear whether Hughes is trying to force through change at a pace which might yet prove fatal, though he claimed the current state of City bears out what he has told the Arabs – "it's not as if I was telling them one thing two months ago and then telling them a different thing now," he said. But the Uefa Cup defeat in Santander eight days ago represented a new low, with Hughes' side shambolic and utterly at odds with each other.
Hughes, who said he has Robinho back today, rejects any talk of relegation fights, but he and his club's supporters will not care to be reminded that the last time they reached Boxing Day with 18 points was in 2000. The following May they were relegated.