International Soccer
Hughes was set up to fail

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Mark Hughes spent 18 months as the manager of Manchester City, but you can argue that he became a dead man walking just three months into his tenure.

Hughes was initially hired by Thaksin Shinawatra in June 2008 following a successful spell as manager at Blackburn, which included a surprising sixth- place finish in just his second season. The club earned a berth in the UEFA Cup, with two more top-half finishes to follow.

The appointment of Hughes by City at the time seemed like a good move, because he had gotten the most out of his players while working with a limited budget.

Under Mark Hughes, City finished in 10th place in the league last season.
At City, Hughes was promised a bit more money to spend on transfers, and if he could lead the club to a place in the top eight, it would be viewed as a success.

However, the world as Hughes knew it was about to change, because just three months after his arrival, Shinawatra sold the club to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his Abu Dhabi-based ownership group, which brought billions of dollars along with it.

Immediately, high-priced transfers were brought to Eastlands and talk of a top-four finish and Champions League qualification swirled around Manchester.

Observers compared the purchase of City to the one made by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003 when he bought Chelsea, transforming the club into a perennial power.

Suddenly, Hughes was a student driver being placed on the Audubon, and he was never able to quite get up to speed.

Hughes was fired following this past Saturday's 4-3 win over Sunderland, and while he himself expressed a great deal of surprise, along with other managers around the country, the move really isn't all that stunning.

After all, the club's ownership group has invested over $320 million into the club since August 2008, with a very limited return.

Under Hughes, City finished in 10th place in the league last season, falling well short of a place in the top four, while also reaching the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup.

This season has been better with the club losing just twice in 17 league matches, however a record-setting run of seven successive draws has left the club in sixth place, six points from a spot in the top four.

City is also set to face Manchester United in the semifinals of the Carling Cup in January, marking further improvement from last season.

But in the instant gratification-world we live in, these results are not good enough, prompting the board to turn to former Inter Milan manager Roberto Mancini.

"Roberto is a hugely experienced manager with a proven track record of winning trophies and championships," said City's chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak. "What is absolutely clear is that Roberto believes in Manchester City's potential to achieve at the highest level and importantly in his own ability to make this happen."

Not only has Hughes never won a major title at the highest level, but he was not even the choice of the current group of owners. They inherited Hughes as manager when they purchased the club, which according to former City boss Kevin Keegan, already worked against him.

"He wasn't appointed by these people and that's the big problem," said Keegan, who managed City from 2001 to 2005. "They want their own man in.

"Although it's very cold and clinical and business-like, for me, it's not enough time for this man to even stamp any sort of authority on this club."

While it's true that asking Hughes to instantly transform City into title challengers was unrealistic, it's also easy to see why the change was made.

In Mancini, City has a manager who won three successive Serie A titles with Inter Milan, demonstrating his ability to succeed on the highest level.

Mancini has dealt with superstar players and the massive egos that they bring to the dressing room, while Hughes has never seemed to warm to players like Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor, preferring the more workmanlike attitudes of Shea Given and Craig Bellamy.

Hughes is a good fit at a club operating with limited money and limited expectations, which is what he did at Blackburn.

If given time, Hughes will be able to get his kind of players and get them to buy into his way of doing things, but that was never going to happen at City.

If the Premiership is high school, Hughes is a member of the marching band trying to fit in with the jocks and cheerleaders.

He is simply out of his element, and has been for a while.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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