Dark Mark on the Blues as Hughes went

Manchester Evening News - - SPORT - By SI­MON BAJKOWSKI

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

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