Dark Mark on the Blues as Hughes went
TEN years before City cried foul over losing a coach without being properly informed, they replaced a manager without telling him.
Mikel Arteta may not have relished the Oxford dugout on a foul December night of Carabao Cup action, but he was at least spared the embarrassment suffered by Mark Hughes and his staff against Sunderland in 2009.
This Christmas marks a decade since one of the lowest points of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership of the club, when a decision that would ultimately be vindicated in the most glorious and dramatic fashion got off to the worst possible start.
Neither getting rid of Hughes nor lining up Roberto Mancini behind his back was shocking on their own.
“I think City fans genuinely wanted him to succeed but especially with the takeover - you always had the impression he was a dead man walking,” explained Kevin Parker, general secretary of the official supporters club.
“Signing Robinho on that magnificent day in 2008 was probably an indication that Hughes wasn’t going to be the manager to manage the type of players the club was suggesting we wanted to buy and the club were probably waiting - I know that sounds horrible - for the opportunity to take advantage of that.”
After spending £120m in the summer of 2009, with high-profile moves including Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Joleon Lescott, the results and the football weren’t as emphatic.
A 3-0 defeat at Tottenham on December 16 was only their second defeat of the season (the other being that 4-3 loss at Old Trafford) but was their ninth game in 10 without a win.
The club were only six points off the top four but the performances had stagnated enough for the board to make their mind up. A deal with Mancini was agreed two days after the Spurs game but, according to chief executive at the time Garry Cook, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak wanted to deliver the news in person and he would not arrive before a home game on December 19 against Sunderland.
But news of sacking Hughes leaked. With the two most senior members of City’s communications team away on pre-arranged leave, a national newspaper got the scoop that Hughes would be made to take charge of a team he was no longer in charge of at a club he would no longer be employed by, and the news spread like wildfire around the ground - including to Hughes and his staff.
Mark Bowen, the manager’s No.2, recalls: “I was living in Solihull at the time and I was on my way to the game with my wife and kids in the car when I got a call from the journalist saying he’d been told it was our last game today.
“I got to the stadium and Mark was already in his room, he’d had the same news. It was really surreal. Mark was professional and said let’s get on with the job in hand.”
City did drive themselves to victory on the day. Even though 2-0 and 3-2 leads were surrendered, Roque Santa Cruz put the Blues back in front with 20 minutes to go. Hughes stepped onto the pitch at the final whistle to give one small wave to the crowd and conducting his post-match interview with BBC Radio Manchester as if everything was normal.
He knew what was coming, though, and was quickly whisked away to be relieved of his duties before facing the rest of the media, and at that point his staff started to inform stunned players including Gareth Barry and Vincent Kompany.
About 90 minutes after the final whistle, a club statement announcing the departure of Hughes and Roberto Mancini’s appointment was put out.
Former Blues boss Kevin Keegan described it as “not that of a real football club [but] that of a business” while Steve Bruce - the opposition manager that day fumed that such decisions were killing off aspiring young managers.
“I think it’s logical that if you are one of the biggest football clubs in the world if you know you’ve a member of staff that you’re going to dispense with, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’ve got a replacement lined up,” said Parker. “But I think if we were going to sack him we should have done it before the game.
“If Khaldoon was running late, get on the phone to him. It’s not ideal either but I’d rather have spoken to him on the phone than made him sit through that. I did feel really sorry for him.” If City wanted to draw a line under the saga by inviting journalists to ask questions to the new manager a few days later, it had the opposite effect.
An opening statement from chief executive Cook stressing that Mancini was only offered the job after the Tottenham defeat in midweek was blown out of the water when the Italian said he’d been speaking to the chairman and the owner weeks before.
Cook, having not intended to answer questions, tried to passionately attempt some kind of damage control. The Telegraph counted nine bangs of the table with his fists as he tried to deny there had been any player unrest over it.
There had, though. Conditioning coach Ivan Carminati had experience working in England with SvenGoran Eriksson but still found the first six months as part of Mancini’s backroom team difficult as Brian Kidd proved an invaluable link between the players and the new staff.
Roberto Mancini led City to the Premier League title after replacing Mark Hughes Kevin Parker