Hughes toils on rocky foundations of divided City to build for future

The Eastlands manager is facing the grim prospect of a relegation battle despite the club's riches.

There's a new pre-match ritual in the Manchester City dressing room. Someone throws some music on, Robinho starts some keepy-ups, others join in – "the young ones and even some of the British lads," according to someone who has witnessed it – and everyone falls over laughing when the kit man Les Chapman tries his hand.

But that's where the harmony stops. Manchester City are in serious difficulties, their shocking descent to a position one place out of the relegation zone on goal difference somehow obscured this week by the sound and fury emanating from Ewood Park, and though City's managing director, Paul Aldridge, is privately confirming that Mark Hughes is safe, the manager appears to be presiding over a squad fractured by internal conflict.

Hughes, who finds himself facing a relegation scrap at The Hawthorns tomorrow with Robinho doubtful, is known to be nursing a severe sense of frustration about some of the players he inherited, some of whom he feels have got "too comfortable" at the club and are failing to set the right example. The Brazilian midfielder Elano is, in particular, considered lazy and a negative influence. Micah Richards, who has made little headway for the last season and a half, is considered a poor trainer, too interested in the time in the weights room which has contributed to his ballooning muscle bulk. Michael Johnson is at the club each day to do the rehabilitation work on his abdominal injury but is lacking the conviction to recuperate.

Hughes, whose exacting demands on players was part of the culture which brought success at Blackburn, also feels that some of the experienced players are not putting in enough effort. The City manager fell out with Dietmar Hamann early on and believes both his and Richard Dunne's laid-back approach to match preparation is setting a bad example to younger players. Hughes has pulled no punches and this is understood to have alienated some players. There are unconfirmed suggestions from some sources of factionalism – with older players like Darius Vassell and Dunne simply out of kilter with the new City revolution. The language hints at that. Hughes constantly talks of his "young team".

Some of Hughes' frustrations are more questionable than others. He believes, for example, that he was given poor advice at City about the merits of the central defender Tel Ben Haim, though precisely who is to blame remains unclear; the Israeli was his own purchase. One explanation of Ben Haim's arrival is that City, aware of his availability, hired whom they could before their former owner Thaksin Shinawatra's world and finances imploded completely. By then, Sheikh Mansour al-Nahyan had yet to ride over the horizon. The same might be said of the £18m Jo – an unmitigated disaster. City's executive chairman, Garry Cook, did not deny this week that the Brazilian was proof Hughes should never again be lumbered with a player who was not of his choosing.

When Vincent Kompany met Aldridge and Hughes, things were moving. The Belgian was told that "something big is about to happen". Shaun Wright-Phillips was signed the next day, then Pablo Zabaleta and then Robinho. All told, Hughes cannot entirely say he is a victim of circumstance.

He does not feel he must strip away the old completely. Richards has such natural ability that there is a genuine hope he will come to work the manager's way. It is not coincidence that Stephen Ireland has flourished under the new regime. The 22-year-old revealed this week how he spent six weeks in the summer undertaking individualised martial arts training at a gym in Glossop, Derbyshire, clocking in at 7.30am and heading off on long-distance runs with bags on his back. The trigger, he says, was the realisation that there would be "one game in 15 where I would do well" which was driving him "insane". Whether by design or coincidence, it enamoured him to Hughes and the gulf in class between Ireland and other relics of the Sven Goran Eriksson regime shows the difference for those who do conform.

It is often forgotten Hughes had a slow start at Blackburn while he waited for his principles to take root – but he does not have time on his side in east Manchester. Though Cook denied as emphatically as he could this week that all foreign owners like to hire their own managers – Hughes, like Cook, belongs to the Thaksin era – the Welshman knows hiring the marquee names Sheikh Mansour wants will be far harder even if City make it into the Uefa Cup next season.

City do want to buy Gianluigi Buffon, John Terry and Kaka, and though Cook won't give the faintest sense of whether box office purchases are a prospect for January – "because if they don't arrive everyone will say City have failed", as one source puts it – it is understood that they will attempt to bring in someone of that calibre next month.

The club's lowly position is not helping their bargaining position: Lassana Diarra is all but lost to Real Madrid and if Blackburn demand £20m for Roque Santa Cruz City would be well advised just to pay, with Jo and Benjani leading their line. As Hughes grapples with difficult structural change, there is a case for ignoring marquee names, hiring five players he knows with proven Premier League experience and securing some of the many winnable points up ahead, with no daunting opposition until Liverpool on 21 February. That way, he might have nights in Europe, not just dressing-room games, to put in front of the big names next summer.

Who City need for...

Top 3 finish

Fernando Torres His agent has said there have been approaches. Proven Premier League calibre.

John Terry

Richard Dunne and Micah Richards gifted Everton last week's winner. Class required and Terry interests City.



Lassana Diarra

City say they'll fight Real Madrid for him but it's a long shot now the Spaniards have agreed a deal.



Top 6 finish

Michael Owen

Hughes probably needs two goalscorers, with Santa Cruz the most likely arrival, but Owen will soon be available.

Glen Johnson

A right-back with pace is vital. Javier Garrido has been a busted flush since last term's 6-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Esteban Cambiasso

The defensive midfielder – valued at £15m – is badly needed, but would need time to adjust.



Survival

Fabio Grosso

Reported £6m offer for Lyons' Italian left-back, though at age of 31 a few questions about handling pace of Premier League.

Matthew Upson

England international is another established operator for the central defensive slot.

Craig Bellamy

Never a hope of him signing for Hughes last summer, but all has changed now in east London.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice