Time running out for Mark Hughes?
Today’s revelation that Garry Cook spoke to Guus Hiddink’s agent about the dutchman’s availability couldn’t have come at a worse time for Mark Hughes.
Quite why Cees van Nieuwenhuizen chose this moment to speak up and say how Hiddink will be happy to stay on with Russia is a bit of a mystery. Clearly he would have had his own reasons for doing so, and these are more likely to be related to his dealings with the Russian Federation than with any desire to make Mark Hughes squirm.
In many ways it makes sense and should not be a surprise. Even Hughes’ biggest fan would acknowledge that eighth in the league isn’t good enough. There is legitimate cause for concern that Hughes will not reach his targets for this season, and therefore Cook is within his rights to be sounding out possible replacements for the Summer. Major appointments need preparation and City need to know who might be available and willing to take over.
Normally such communication would be kept private, and it would be fascinating to know whether Cook agreed to this being made public. Van Nieuwenhuizen claims to be a friend who has known Cook for 12 years. Would he therefore have checked with Cook before speaking to The Telegraph?
One thing is clear, the thumping 3-0 scoreline of the defeat at Spurs has put the pressure firmly on Hughes. But let’s be equally clear it is not this result alone that is causing the managers future to be questioned. All the other top teams have suffered bad results this season, most recently with Villa beating United at Old Trafford.
The real damage to Hughes has been done in the run of draws, where the failure to accumulate points has seen us drift down the table. There has been little to suggest the manager is capable of rectifying the situation and turning our squad of talented individuals into an organised, disciplined unit capable of producing consistent victories.
That’s what Guus Hiddink did for Chelsea last season, and it’s hard not to wonder whether he could step in and get more out of our underperforming individuals. He revitalised a dormant Drogba. Could he do the same for Robinho and Adebayor?
After every bad result the tabloid press quickly bay for a manager’s blood, but today saw a change of tone in the more considered areas of the media with two articles in The Guardian (1 and 2). City supporting David Conn has reasonable inside knowledge and sums up events in a way that fits with my own recent analysis of the Hughes regime (Parts 1, 2 and 3).
As City fans, we’re well acquainted with managerial departures, and the signs that Hughes may eventually be on his way are becoming increasingly apparent. Despite all the changes to the squad and attempts to buy a winning mentality, the dressing room is not a happy place. Some senior players believe in Hughes, others do not.
It’s difficult to see him uniting this squad and turning the performances around before the end of the season. After a year and a half, the defence is no better organised than it was in the 4-2 defeat at Villa Park with which Hughes made his Premier League debut as City manager.
The notion of buying more defenders, such as Matthew Upson, smacks of desperation. Sure, losing Lescott for a few weeks is a loss, but why give Onuoha and Kompany new contracts if we’re not prepared to play them? A central defence of Onuoha and Kompany may be untried, but on paper it looks decent enough, and ought to be capable of getting us through the temporary absence of Toure and Lescott.
Sheikh Mansour wants to spend his millions on the likes of Ribery, not more solid pros like Scott Parker and Upson. We have enough of those now.
Hughes has enjoyed an excellent relationship with Khaldoon and Garry Cook, but they should be hard nosed enough to make the change if they feel it’s necessary. The big question may be whether this is done at the end of the season, or if a change now could see the current campaign salvaged.
The views of Brian Marwood could be critical here. Marwood is the one senior person at the club with a football background who isn’t associated with Hughes. He also has the ear of Cook and Khaldoon.
The best time to make a change would be the end of the season, but in football the results come in each week, and once things start to go wrong, they can quickly spiral. If Hughes is considered a dead man walking, he could easily lose the backing of the players and results could suffer.
Mourinho is unlikely to be available before the end of the season. It’s far from clear whether he would want to come to City, or whether his continual controversies would fit with the Sheikhs ambitions to promote the good name of Abu Dhabi.
Despite today’s comments, Hiddink remains the obvious candidate if a change is to made mid-season. Roberto Mancini is also available, but it is a bit of a mystery why he never seems to get a job despite winning 3 consecutive Serie A titles.
For Hughes, the next three games of Sunderland, Stoke and Wolves are all winnable. Anything less than 7 points and the pressure will continue. Any run of defeats could see breaking point reached. There will be an edge to the game at Eastlands tomorrow, and an undeniable exhileration as the manager’s future becomes apparent.
- Do you think Mark Hughes has a future at City?