Hughes at risk of shaming Sheikh

Tim Rich
Tuesday 14 April 2009 00:00
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'We have won our last four games and you have to go to Old Trafford in the belief you can get something out of it,' says Hughes
'We have won our last four games and you have to go to Old Trafford in the belief you can get something out of it,' says Hughes

When asked how Manchester City's owners follow their team, the club's chief executive, Garry Cook, painted a picture of Sheikh Mansour, his friends and family, gathered round a big screen in Abu Dhabi, watching the live feeds from Eastlands and beyond.

Cook would hope Sheikh Mansour did not see Sky's coverage of Sunday's defeat by Fulham, after which both studio guests, Alan Curbishley and Dion Dublin, were asked if they could see City overturning a 3-1 deficit in Thursday's Uefa Cup quarter-final against Hamburg.

In contrast to, say, Irish television where RTE's John Giles and Eamon Dunphy tear hyena-like into every error, Sky's post-match discussions are gentle affairs. Curbishley knows and respects Hughes, Dublin played with him for Manchester United. Both said "no" with a finality that did not brook a follow-up question.

Later, on Match of the Day, the men from Abu Dhabi could see the mistakes of their captain, Richard Dunne, laid bare to ridicule. And here lies the danger for Hughes. Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi United Group did not buy Manchester City as an investment; it was bought for prestige. They most certainly did not buy it to be laughed at, or for a manager they have backed to receive the kind of abuse Hughes did for his decision to "rest" Robinho against Fulham.

On Thursday, City's chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, is due at Eastlands, where an imaginative £5 ticket scheme has ensured a sell-out. The atmosphere, at least for the opening quarter-of-an hour, appears guaranteed, the football is not.

Before Sunday's debacle, Dunne made the kind of statement that now appears pointed: "Our owners want to see progress on the pitch a bit faster. They are men with big ambitions who did not get where they are by being happy about losing."

Hughes, too, has a burning inner desire to win that ensures he could confound sceptics such as Sir Alex Ferguson who thought him too introverted to manage. Like the United manager, he is fiercely protective of his players – even on Sunday he was claiming Robinho had enjoyed "a great season", while the truth is that since the new year the Brazilian's displays have been an open invitation to be dropped.

Hughes, Cook and Al-Mubarak will meet routinely after the Hamburg game and while public backing for the manager is still strong, defeat with dignity is the minimum requirement.

City are a team that lack physical presence and at Hamburg's Nordbank Arena and at Eastlands on Sunday, they were brushed aside with alarming ease. Hughes cannot afford another surrender if he is to sit comfortably alongside Cook and Al-Mubarak.

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