Santa Cruz helps Hughes put on brave face

City manager presents £17m striker as frustrations over Eto'o deal start to show, writes Ian Herbert
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The Independent Football

"It's really important that when you bring players into a club you know what they are like as characters and what they will bring to the group as a whole." Those were the words of Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, yesterday as he described the value of Roque Santa Cruz, the £17m new signing sitting to his left in a conference room inside City's stadium. If only Hughes could have said the same of Samuel Eto'o.

He was none the wiser as to whether the Cameroonian was willing to budge on his demands for a £12m cut of his transfer fee, as well as wages of up to £200,000 a week, in order to sign for City. "That has to be resolved by the player and the club he's at. Patience has been mentioned and we'll have to be patient," Hughes said. "If we get to a point where we feel things aren't going to happen and we feel the process is stalling and we can't move it forward, then that's the time we walk away and we've done that in the past."

Hughes' instincts should have told him that his patience is worth saving for worthier targets. Asked if a player moving to City should care for the mission, as well as the money on offer, Hughes related how he, aged 31 in 1995, had taken the same a leap of faith City are asking the Barcelona striker to make now – by joining a Chelsea side which had not won a trophy in 24 years. It was, Hughes said, "the chance to be part of something right from the beginning," and the FA Cup and Uefa Cup trophies Chelsea collected within three years were "something I really enjoyed".

On the field, Eto'o is a worker, just like Hughes. The problem is that he just does not seem to harbour any of the appetite for City that Hughes once had for Chelsea. The latest soundings from Spain are that he would take less than the wages City are offering to sign for Manchester United.

Santa Cruz is a different story. Such was the Paraguayan's determination to be prepared for his long-awaited move from Blackburn Rovers, where Hughes signed him from Bayern Munich two years ago, that he underwent surgery to clean loose bone from his troublesome knee in April. Some at Ewood Park were less than delighted since Rovers were deep in the throes of a relegation battle at the time. "I would have done long-term damage my knee if I'd carried on playing," Santa Cruz insisted yesterday.

The striker does not have such a high opinion of his own worth as Eto'o. Though Hughes referred to the player's time at Bayern as evidence of "a mentality to understand what it's like to be at a big club and the expectation that entails," he neglected to say that he rescued Santa Cruz from the sidelines there. Now Hughes is offering another new horizon.

Santa Cruz volunteered yesterday that Hughes does need not to sign Eto'o or Carlos Tevez to secure a top four finish in the Premier League next season. "With the players we have in the squad already the challenge will be to get in the top four anyway," he said. Hughes is not so confident of that time frame. He needs players – and Eto'o is not among them – who have the virtue of patience which he is preaching.