Hughes impatient to get show on the road

City manager admits to excitement as his expensive side prepare for big kick-off
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The Independent Online

Great oaks from acorns grow but Manchester City can't be doing with all the time that would take. They've just gone ahead and bought some privet trees which stand, manicured in the sunshine, at the approach to the club's Carrington training complex, as impeccably landscaped as all other parts of the football club this summer.

A medical facility approaching the size of a cottage hospital is another addition to a complex which the England team doctor, Ian Beasley, esteems the best in the country, and its 10 beds and massage facilities are an accoutrement the City manager Mark Hughes has found more valuable than he would have hoped with his signings going down like flies.

That's as maybe. The significance of the training facility, part of an £8m investment in the infrastructure of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed al-Nahyan in the close season, is the signal it provides that the club – derided, loathed and ridiculed by so many – are actually at the start of something refreshingly new and not abominably nouveau as so many want to have it.

Amid all the talk of a club no longer with a soul – "This Abu Dhabi lot have got money, but that's all they've got," was the recent lament of Colin Shindler, the author of Manchester United Ruined My Life, "they've taken my love, cloaked her in the finest of silk dresses and doused her in the most seductive of Arabian fragrances. I don't recognise her any longer" – has been the orderly pursuit of players at pre-identified valuations, inflated though some have needed to be to bring them through the door. Dotted around those purchases have been the new five-year deal for England Under-21 defender Nedum Onuoha, an opening training session which drew 10,000 to Eastlands and the free website feeds of City's South Africa tour matches which drew audiences of 20,000.

City have not lost their soul. Theirs is an undeniably positive place to be amid all the cynicism in football, and it was in keeping with the prevailing mood that in the last day before all those great imponderable questions about City's capabilities are put to the test, Hughes was basking in the exhilaration of it all yesterday.

"We've certainly made huge strides in a short space of time and sometimes we have to check ourselves when we have disappointments and remind ourselves how far we have come," he said. The City manager is as adept as any at denying writers an easy line but this time he made an exception.

Yes, he said, he is more excited about this season than any other. "Because of the focus that is on us and the excitement that new players bring to the club, plus what we went through last season, which makes us stronger as a team and as a group. I fully expect that to be shown on the field of play."

There is no disguising how much Hughes' future rests on the £94m he has invested these past three months in Santa Cruz (£17m), Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor (both £25m), Gareth Barry (£12m) and Kolo Touré (£15m). "I don't think [spending] will be on this scale again," he reflected. "The business we've done and the quality we have brought in will sustain us."

But there can be comfort in the fact that there has been nothing flashy where those acquisitions are concerned. Robinho might have been signed, in the first flourish of an Arab chequebook, to make a statement but what Hughes has added is a group of proven achievers in British football. "We made a list of all the honours that this group of players has won and they include Champions League winners, Premier League winners, FA Cup winners, top international players," he said. "You expect them to come to the fore when you have to come back from situations that look uncomfortable for you."

The squad has collected 23 championships between them, if you include Shay Given's 1994/5 squad role at Blackburn and his understudy Stuart Taylor's at Arsenal eight years back. (Taylor, but not Given, collected a medal.) It seems Hughes really does have a side better equipped for afternoons like the season opener at Blackburn, the kind of hostile environment which contributed to an away record superior only to West Bromwich Albion's last season. "It was there for all to see last season that our away form wasn't going to allow us to have a successful season because it would always compromise us and draw us back," Hughes said. "The key in the Premier League is getting back-to-back home and away wins. We have to get that consistency this season."

There are question marks for sure. The pursuit of John Terry was significant because of the need Hughes had – has – for a proven leader and the embodiment of the "winning mentality" he says he found in such short supply. "We have also had six or seven players arrive who have either been the captain of their previous clubs or their countries, or even Manchester City," he counters. "So they understand what it takes."

The defence looked to have some of the old frailties in pre-season, rendering the ongoing pursuit of a sixth major signing so significant. Everton manager David Moyes' attack on Hughes had not, as of last night, deterred City from their ongoing pursuit of Joleon Lescott. But Hughes can take some serious advantage from the absence of Europa League football and from the squad depth which the previous two windows have delivered.

He will also benefit from the Arabs' determination to be something other than impulsive arrivistes and that will give him time to build before an axe hangs over his head. The sixth-place finish that chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak has identified looks highly achievable.

Hughes was asked, before leaving, whether suggestions that the insults thrown City's way this summer had been pinned up as a motivational tool were true. "They've been noted but I don't pin them up," he said, before turning the joke on City and their newfound corporate culture. "I always use PowerPoint." The words of an individual who is actually having some fun – a commodity in short supply in football and which will serve City as well as anything.

Show us your medals City's squad of winners

*TAL BEN-HAIM

Won the 2002-03 Israeli championship with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Got a Premier League runner-up medal in 2008 with Chelsea.

*SHAY GIVEN

Although Given did not play enough games to win a medal, he was part of the Blackburn squad that won the 1994-95 Premiership title under Kenny Dalglish.

*KOLO TOURE

Has twice won the Côte d'Ivoire Premier Division in 2001 and 2002 before claiming a Premier League crown in 2004.

*VINCENT KOMPANY

The midfielder won two Championship medals with RSC Anderlecht, topping the Belgian First Division in 2004 and 2006.

*ROBINHO

The 25-year-old has won an impressive four league titles, winning the Brazilian Campeonato in 2002 and 2004 with Santos and La Liga in 2007 and 2008 at Real Madrid.

* ROQUE SANTA CRUZ

The Paraguyan tops the title-winning list with an impressive seven titles, Two Primera Divisió*de Paraguay championships with Olimpia Asunció*and five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich.

*STUART TAYLOR

Only just received a Premier League winners' medal from Arsenal's 2001-02 campaign by making his 10th league appearance on the very last day (this is the minimum required).

*CARLOS TEVEZ

Has won both the Argentinian and Brazilian leagues once, with Boca Juniors and Corinthians respectively. Also won two league titles with Manchester United.

*SHAUN WRIGHT-PHILLIPS

Won the Premier League with Chelsea in 2006.

Sam Cunningham

Starter's orders: Opening games

*Today

(kick-offs 3pm unless stated)

Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic

Blackburn Rovers v Manchester City

Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland

Chelsea v Hull (12.45, Sky Sports 1)

Everton v Arsenal (17.30, ESPN)

Portsmouth v Fulham

Stoke City v Burnley

Wolverhampton v West Ham Utd

*Tomorrow

Man Utd v Birmingham (1.30, SS1)

Tottenham v Liverpool (4.00, SS1)

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