Mark Hughes sacking by Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi based ownership group has been reportedly pushed for weeks by club Chief Executive Garry Cook. Cook, the former Nike Executive who claimed dumping the Citizens best player of the past five years (Richard Dunne) was about shirt sales, again demonstrated his naivety about English football with this move.
Once again a foreign ownership group that passed the “fit and proper test” by the Premier League has brought the game into disrepute. This time it wasn’t mounting debt or a blatant disrespect for the legacy of English football, but instead it was a bungled sacking and the hiring of a foreign manager with zero management experience in English football.
It appears the impetus for this sacking, came from the club’s Chief Executive, who is English but also from outside football. This should be worrying for all fans of the game. Businessmen in suits whose sole interest is marketing are now overrunning football clubs and even the boardrooms which were often made up of former players and other locals.
Cook has been focused on the branding of the club, and still has little understanding of football itself. So, the fault perhaps lies with the ownership group for sticking with Cook, whom like Hughes, was inherited, when the club was purchased. Cook, after all comes from Nike, who despite unrivaled financial success, has moved from one bungled public relations mess to another.
Returning to discussion of the actual sacking, winters in the Northwest of England are brutal, and specific tactics and style of football are needed to survive this time of the year. By sacking a manager with such experience and hiring one with none, City has turned a potential top four campaign into one that could flirt with relegation.
Roberto Mancini, despite his success in Serie A, (at a time we must recall that both Juventus and Milan were caught in scandal) has never managed a single British footballer before and may force a continental brand of football on a group of players unwilling or incapable of playing such a style.
Hughes had focused largely on players with experience in the Premier League with his buys. That led to a team made up largely of British players and footballers who have spent the bulk of their professional careers in England.
Mancini, on the other hand spent four matches as a player in England on loan to Leicester City, and has never defeated an English side in European competition as a manager. The hiring of Brian Kidd as his Assistant Manager is somewhat reassuring, however. Kidd, fulfilled the same job for Manchester United for many years, before his move to Blackburn and his high profile falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mancini is certainly among the best available managers City could have hired. But this hiring would have been easier if done in the summer, not in the dead of winter, with the club struggling. The manager could have acclimated himself to the English game more easily with the lead time Summer training and friendlies provide.
Mark Hughes deserves our sympathy for his unprofessional sacking, but perhaps not for his track record as Manchester City manager. The last several weeks “Sparky” appeared to have lost it on the touchline, which resulted in Arsene Wenger refusing the shake his hand after a League Cup match, and unsubstantiated accusations that official Mark Clattenberg had mentioned to Hughes, that Craig Bellamy was a trouble maker.
Additionally, Hughes is a manager who sold Vedran Corluka, and Elano at cut rate prices, while buying Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Bridge, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott, for well above fair market value. The manager also employed a 4-3-3 tactical setup which leaked goals at the back and created chaos on City’s backline, both seasons he was managing the club.
The Blues regularly lost their shape at the back, and midfielders who were forced to cover more space in the 4-3-3 were regularly out of position. Gareth Barry has in particular struggled with the formation and his responsibilities in the City midfield. Conversely, Barry is solid enough to play a much more comfortable and confident role for Fabio Capello’s England in a 4-4-2, and turned in several man of the match performances last season with Aston Villa.
This is not to mention the almost weekly mistakes from Bridge, which began shortly after his transfer from Chelsea last January, nor the consistent on the pitch misunderstanding between Toure and Lescott. Right back has also been a problem since the sale Corluka, after Hughes had purchased the inconsistent Pablo Zabaleta and saw a decline in form of Micah Richards, a product of City’s excellent Youth Academy.
All of Hughes missteps do not excuse the way he was sacked, or the continued degradation of a proud club by its current chief executive. Eventually, City’s ownership may realize Garry Cook is bad news, but until then expect more Public Relations missteps around Eastlands.