Stick with Sparky or expect City crash - Premier League - Football - The Independent

Stick with Sparky or expect City crash

Hughes has wealth of knowledge and funds to worry Big Four but priceless commodity of time may elude him.

It is a test that most managers would love, but one that, as history has shown, surprisingly few pass: offered far more money to spend than any rivals, build a squad to outstrip them. Sven Goran Eriksson was able to achieve it at Lazio, winning a first championship in 26 years, yet at Manchester City, where the sums on offer appear to be the highest yet, throwing a team together who moved from 14th place to ninth was considered insufficient progress to merit his continuing in the job.

Now Mark Hughes, solid, dependable and steeped in British football, has taken on the mantle – or poisoned chalice – and supporters have been assured by the club's garrulous chief executive, Garry Cook, that he will not go the way of Eriksson in three months' time. Just to be on the safe side of City's fabulously wealthy Abu Dhabi owners, however, it would be worth maintaining the team's current progress, even if an away fixture against the previous rich boys of English football at Stamford Bridge today is not the ideal opportunity.

Not since the earliest League tables of the season have City been as high as their present eighth, a status all the more impressive in that they were in the relegation positions at Christmas, when Manchester United's favourite carol was (tune – "Yellow Submarine"): "City going down with a billion in the bank."

Hughes's quiet dignity has been a feature ever since the dramatic takeover on transfer-deadline day, when Robinho was snatched from under Chelsea's noses. A phrase he used in the wake of Thursday's 2-0 Uefa Cup first-leg victory over Aalborg summed up the man and his philosophy: "A good professional performance." His maturity may even be matched now by the club, if, as he said on Friday, they will no longer stand for talk of silly transfer fees, whether for Kaka, David Villa or anyone else: "Initially that was the case but now people have an understanding that if the deal's not right for us, we'll walk away. We've done it in other circumstances and it's not as if clubs can say any price and we'll pay it."

It is tiresome, in any case, for him to be talking about transfers six weeks after the last window closed and two- and-a-half months before the next one is thrown open. Drawn on the subject of Chelsea's captain, John Terry, he spoke only of a respected opponent, not a highly unlikely new recruit: "He's a great captain and a great guy as well, and he's a player that everybody in football has a great deal of respect for because of his attitude to the game and his application and the way he leads his team."

Hughes is more comfortable talking about City players, including Robinho, even if the question is usually framed around how long they can keep him: "He says on a regular basis he wants to stay. He is happy here, he enjoys his football and you can see that by the way he plays. He has a group of team-mates who enjoy his company and his ability on the field because he's a top, top player and he will help them win matches. He's as good as I've seen at making the half a yard of space to create something."

Then there is Stephen Ireland, one of the revelations of the season in midfield since putting personal problems and the Irish national team behind him; and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who, like Wayne Bridge, deserves a warm reception at Stamford Bridge today: "I've seen him in situations where you think he's going to get clobbered by two or three players at the same time and all of a sudden he skips out and comes out with the ball. It's a quality I haven't seen in many players."

When the discussion turns back to Chelsea, one of his former clubs, there is a first hint of criticism, based on the decision to dispense with Jose Mourinho 18 months ago: "The surprise was when, from looking in great shape and very solid, Mourinho left under whatever circumstances. Looking from the outside, the change hasn't helped them at times. They got to a Champions' League final and were a penalty kick from winning it, so they haven't done badly, but the perception is that there have been too many changes in a short space of time."

It is a lesson for City to heed.

Today's games

CHELSEA v MANCHESTER CITY

(1.30, Setanta Sports 1)

Rising up the table and more confident at home, City now have to prove they possess the mental strength to produce some away results similar to the draw at Liverpool. But Chelsea were comfortable 3-1 winners at Eastlands in September, even though Robinho scored on his debut.

ASTON VILLA v TOTTENHAM

(4.00, Sky Sports 1)

After six games without a win, questions are being asked about Villa's strength in depth and, inevitably, their ability to hold off Arsenal for fourth place. Spurs, with their fixture list easing, should continue moving out of trouble, but not necessarily today.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week