Why did Mark Hughes fly to Barcelona on Saturday?
One of the more curious items of news this weekend was that Mark Hughes flew to Spain to watch Barcelona play Osasuna on Saturday evening – the night before City played Birmingham. Needless to say, speculation about his intentions has varied wildly.
Initially there was the inevitable talk of the trip being related to a transfer for Robinho, but this would make little sense. Any discussion of such a transfer could be done by executives of the clubs and would hardly require Hughes to make a personal trip to Spain the night before a match. The reason is far more likely to be a scouting mission of possible transfer targets.
We have been regularly linked with Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol and Thierry Henry of Barca. Given the age of Puyol and Henry these links have always looked a bit tenuous and seem to reflect journalists looking for easy stories featuring big name players.
Of the Barca three, only Puyol actually played, though Hughes probably wouldn’t have known in advance that Toure was goingÃ‚Â to be on the bench. Kolo’s brother is a player that Hughes is known to admire, but Barca have been reluctant to let him go. He signed an improved deal in the Summer, but City could better this if the player was interested in coming. He is a quality player, but with the form of Nigel de Jong, a predominantly defensive midfielder doesn’t appear a priority for January.
The question then arises as to whether Hughes was actually looking at Osasuna players to see how they fared against the might of Barcelona. The two full-backs were alleged to be the players under scrutiny.
In the Summer, both Glen Johnson and Rafa Benitez spoke of City having bid for Johnson, and we were also heavily linked with Maicon at Inter Milan. It does appear that neither Micah Richards or Pablo Zabaleta are proving quite as good as hoped in the eyes of the City manager, and a new right-back could be brought in during the next transfer window.
Maicon may be the preferred choice, but prising him away from Inter in mid-season is unlikely to be easy, and it’s possible that Hughes is looking at other options.
What would this mean for Zabaleta and Richards?
Zabaleta was a fans favourite last season, but was signed before the big money came in, and does have certain limitations despite a fantastic attitude. He lacks a bit of pace and his attacking play isn’t consistently good. The defensive side of the game is his strength but even there he can pick up unnecessary yellow and red cards, as we saw against Wigan recently. There have also been recent rumours linking him with Juventus and clubs in Spain, as if to say his days at City may be numbered.
Richards has fallen from favour with a lot of people, but there is the view that he is still young and could improve. City are under no pressure to sell and I have a feeling he may be given more time, though not as a first choice – in an ideal world for Hughes that would be Maicon.
Osasuna’s left-back is Ignacio Monreal, a 23-year-old who has been capped by Spain, and was a former under-21 regular. Wayne Bridge is definitely performing better this season, so it would be more of a surprise to see Hughes sign a less established player from Spain.
In the last two transfer windows, Hughes has gone for proven Premier League players wherever he could, as he sought to toughen up the team mentally. Having established the core of the squad, there’s now scope to bring in players from further afield.
January is unlikely to be as dramatic as the previous transfer windows, but it will be interesting to see how Hughes fine-tunes the squad. Maybe he was in Spain to look at Messi afterall!