Sunday, 31 May 2009

Ten years on

I can't believe I missed this (by two hours), but today (that is, Saturday 30th), is the tenth anniversary of the greatest day in my life as a City fan: Gillingham.

There's not much I have to say about it really; but that it was both the worst and best moment of my football supporting life, that it was the apex in a parabola whose first peak was, at the latest, the Peter Reid era, and on whose upward curve we are currently travelling.

While counterfactuals are never too helpful, it is surely true to say that had we not beaten Gillingham that day we would not currently be about to enjoy as exciting and improving summer as we now face. The blow of failing to get out of the third tier at the first attempt would not have been easy to recover from. There's no way of knowing if any of Kevin Keegan, Ali Benarbia, the City of Manchester Stadium, Georgios Samaras, Emile Mpenza, Thaksin, Sven, ADUG or Robinho would have happened to us. But likelihood must be against it.

But it went in, we won the shoot-out, and the rest is history. I still never back Dickov to score when I watch it again though.

Tévez and Barry linked again

Another Saturday night, another David Harrison exclusive to mull over. This time it's a transfer rumour, and the targets are Carlos Tévez (again), and a new one - Gareth Barry. Harrison says we're likely to land both of them, for a combined fee of £32million. While both players have other suitors (Liverpool in both cases, plus other teams in each) our financial clout could see us outbid all competition:

Hughes is in the Middle East to talk about transfer targets with City's Abu Dhabi owners and has made it clear he sees Tevez as vital to the club.

City are much further down the road with Tevez than Barry. But they are confident their financial clout will get them the Aston Villa captain.

I think these would both be absolutely fantastic buys - the type which could well see us challenging Aston Villa and Everton next season. I think we've got a good chance with Tévez, but I'm very sceptical about Barry. Isn't the whole point of the Barry transfer saga that he wants Champions League football? And then there's the general point that transfer rumours, fun as they are, are more often rubbish than not. But they're still fun to read.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Santos claim Robinho wants out

Some quotes today from Santos President Marcelo Teixeria:

Santos president Teixeira said: “Robinho has asked if we can suggest what he does now. He is unhappy at City and has expressed an interest in returning to Santos as well as talked over other possibilities for the next step of his career.”

Robinho, now back in Brazil on holiday, had a 90-minute meeting with Teixeira at the club headquarters on Thursday. Apparently that was when he raised the possibility of following the examples of Ronaldo and Adriano and returning from Europe to Brazilian football.

Teixeira, however, conceded: “It would be difficult for us because of the costs involved.”

I'm not sure what to make of this. For a start, I'd want to see them translated and carried by a more reputable source than '' But they could well be genuine. Robinho's very good at lots of things, but acting and speaking sensibly is not really among them. I mean, if he was a really sensible professional he wouldn't have left Real Madrid for a mid-table Premier League club just because his dream move to Chelsea didn't come off.

But anyway, it's not like Santos are going to buy him off us any time soon. Let's wait and see what else drifts over from Brazil between now and the start of pre-season.

City meet Tévez fee?

According to Friday's Times:

Manchester City and Liverpool are among five leading clubs who have agreed to pay the £25 million needed to sign Carlos Tévez this summer amid growing uncertainty over the Argentina striker’s future at Manchester United, The Times has learnt.

If this is true, it's probably net bad news. The limiting factor in our attempts to sign Tévez was never really going to be our ability to match Joorabchian's asking price, but rather the player's willingness to come to City ahead of other, more attractive options. If we can't outbid Liverpool in terms of fee we'll have to hope that either we offer him ludicrously high wages, or that Rafael Benítez decides to tell him he won't be first choice. Both of which are unlikely. This must make Liverpool favourites.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

New Ireland deal

Wonderful news from the club today: Player of the Year Stephen Ireland has signed a new five year contract. He is now contracted until 2014 - longer than anyone else at the club. (Shay Given, Craig Bellamy, Pablo Zabaleta, Micah Richards, Joe Hart and Michael Johnson all have deals expiring in 2013.) Ireland said:
"It was something that I've been worrying about for a few months but now it's done I can enjoy the summer. I never had any doubts about staying. Regardless, I was going to be here, and hopefully for the remainder of my career. I don't see why not. I really want to become a hero here, to hopefully achieve things.

"I'm settled here - I love the club, I love the fans, and I don't see what's going to make me leave this club. These are very exciting times. It's going to be interesting just to see what the line-up will be at the start of next season and how far we can push on. Hopefully we can compete for the title and get back into Europe."

I'll write more about how awesome Stephen Ireland is when I do my end of season awards (sorry to ruin the suspense...), which will be next time I find some spare time from revision.

Elano to Inter?

So claims The Sun:

JOSE MOURINHO plans to celebrate his success at Inter Milan with an £8million move for Elano.

He thinks Manchester City’s Brazilian playmaker will adjust to life better in Italy than England and enjoy Serie A football far more.

City will also recoup the cash they splashed on Elano in August 2007.

This makes perfect sense. Even with Elano's recent upturn in form, Hughes' unwillingness to consider a new contract despite requests suggest that he'll leave this summer. And given his passing ability but lack of athleticism Serie A makes perfect sense. If Mourinho can get the best out of him he'd add a bit more nuance to a rather unsubtle Inter midfield. Worth keeping an eye on this one.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

TLDORC May Awards

The last month of the season was a microcosm of it in its entirey; two comfortable home wins, two rather tepid away defeats.

Blackburn (h) 3-1
Manchester United (a) 0-2
Spurs (a) 1-2
Bolton Wanderers (h) 1-0

Player of the Month

No obvious winner really. There were only a few stand-out performances, and no obvious winner as there had been before. It could have gone to a few players: Nigel de Jong, Nedum Onuoha, Shay Given or Stephen Ireland. But for his consistent quality, home and away, it's going to Nedum Onuoha again - as he becomes only the second person to win the TLDORC Player of the Month more than once this season (Ireland has an unprecedented four awards.) This was the month where Onuoha was rumoured to be close to an England call-up - which never materialised, and a new three year deal - which may well in the summer.

Individual performance and goal of the month

One of the most pleasing things to come from this rather anti-climactic end of the season:
Valeri Bozhinov's first competitive goal for City. We signed him in summer 2007, and in both Augusts since he has suffered terrible long term injuries; cruciate knee ligaments in the derby in '07 and then a torn Achilles at Villa Park on opening day '08. Having made his return at the Boleyn Ground in March - the site of his first and third debuts for City - he worked his way slowly back to full fitness. And on 16 May he finally reached the mountain-top, volleying in Benjani's header to score his first goal for the club. Who knows where he'll be in the pecking order next season - I've got no idea - but wherever he is, I'm sure this will always be a special moment for him. It certainly was for us.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Bolton reax

Tim Rich, The Guardian

When Felipe Caceido slid home Micah Richards' overhead kick, the stage seemed set for an avalanche. Instead there was only a light flurry of chances in a couple of strikes from Robinho and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Fabio Capello would have been especially interested in Wright-Phillips' efforts since a knee injury that required a specialist's attention was supposed to have ruled him out of England's World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra as well as this game. He played because the specialist was more optimistic than expected, though Bolton were so feeble he could have sat the afternoon out.

Guy Hodgson, The Independent

The City manager could argue he is halfway there to creating a decent team because their tally of home victories was bettered by only Manchester United. This one included an outstanding goal converted by Felipe Caicedo and was memorable for the parts played by Stephen Ireland and Micah Richards.

The match also had moments of outstanding football from Robinho, who yesterday, in a rare day of hot sunshine, looked like a £32m player. Pity he can also look over-priced and under-motivated when he is appearing away from Eastlands.

Chris Wheeler, Daily Mail

City fans love their cult heroes and they do not come any more obscure than Berti, the Brazilian signed on a one-year deal last August who had yet to play one minute of football for the club before yesterday, despite making the bench 20 times.

His introduction as a substitute for Wayne Bridge five minutes from the end brought an even bigger cheer than greeted Felipe Caicedo’s winning goal, which says much about this tame end-of-season encounter.

James Ducker, The Times

Bolton Wanderers barely posed a threat to City yesterday, with Gary Megson reiterating that his team would be relegated next season if they failed to add to his squad in the summer. Felipe Caicedo put City in front from a well-worked free kick in the eighth minute, but the home team should have won at a canter.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

City 1 - 0 Bolton

  • I didn't see the game, so if you did please tell us all about it. How good was it to see Berti play?
  • What a contrast to the 8-1 this time last year. It goes to underline the fact that the most important resource at a football club is managerial authority. Last May City were in chaos, with Eriksson undermined by Shinawatra and just days from the sack. And we went to Middlesbrough and conceded eight. This season could have gone the same way; as big money imports failed to pull City beyond mid-table mediocrity again. But the chairman's announcement last week confirming Hughes' job security restored confidence and fixed everyone's sights on the future.
  • We finish the season with thirteen home league wins - the second most in the Premier League - and thirty nine points - the third most, behind only Manchester United and Liverpool. If we can maintain this next year and take another ten or twelve points on the road - we'll be doing well.
  • Season review etc to come some point late next week, but can't promise anything.

NotW medley

Four interesting stories in today's News of the World about City:
  • Most prominent, and least credible, is that we're interested in Emmanuel Adebayor, and will pay £21million for him. This sounds to me like simple agent-stirring; other managers like to link themselves to City for the publicity (Mancini, Klinsmann etc), and so do players. It (clearly) gets them in the papers and drives their price up. Can you think of a Premier League centre forward Hughes would be less interested in than Adebayor, given his work rate this season? Me neither.
  • Then there's the good news that Nedum Onuoha is on the brink of signing a new deal. He's been one of the best things about this season, finally turning into a player of the quality many knew he possessed. But could a new deal for Nedum signal the end of Richard Dunne at City? I'd be surprised if they were both first choice next season.
  • A defender who has not fulfilled his potential this year is Micah Richards - but Hughes has quashed reports that he's to be sold in the summer. Apparently we need more players with an 'empathy for the club', in the interest of team unity and so forth. I agree with him on theory, but I would say two things: Danny Sturridge has come through the Academy but doesn't exactly seem to be full of 'empathy for the club' at the moment, so it's not always that simple. And Pablo Zabaleta is a much better right back than Micah Richards. But that's not in itself a reason to get rid.
  • If you ever want a sleepless night, think of Stephen Ireland's unsigned contract and remind yourself that he was a United fan as a boy. David Harrison puts two and two together and says that Ferguson wants Ireland as the long term replacement for Paul Scholes (I'm sure he said recently that Anderson was to be that.) This means that we're going to rush the deal through and get it done ASAP. If he goes to United I'm giving up on football.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Hughes: Ireland talks progressing

As the on-off contract talks of one ludicrously talented Academy graduate look like they've hit a wall, those of another may well be back on track: Mark Hughes has said that Stephen Ireland's contract negotiations are going well:

Hughes, whose side host Bolton tomorrow, said: "The decision-making is getting positive.

"We want to get it done and dusted and give Stephen the assurance going into the new season that everything is sorted.

"We've recognised the progress he has made this season and would like to reward him for that."

Hughes says Sturridge set to leave

Bad news in the Mail:
Hughes said: 'We put in another offer but that was declined so we won't be going back. We've not got much headroom to negotiate and I'm disappointed.'
This is a real shame. There is part of me that thinks that there's no point in being the richest club in the world if you can't afford to keep your best young players. But then you read the figures he's allegedly asking for, and you think of how many goals he's ever scored for us, and it does turn you off a bit. I'm just worried he's going to turn into a top quality footballer for another club.

Cook speaks

There's an interesting Garry Cook interview in Saturday's Times, done by Oliver Kay. He covers a host of topics - implying that we're moving for Carlos Tévez, saying that the Kaká saga didn't put him off trying similar moves in the future, and underlining the key theme that the new owners want to build long-term sustainable success.

But there's two other things I want to pick up on. Cook, while defending Hughes, attacked the Eriksson regime and the legacy it left at the club. I've written about this before but it's been a central part of both Hughes' approach to managing City, and Hughes' public pronouncements on City. And now Hughes is sure in his position, Cook takes up two of the core criticisms of the Eriksson regime:

"People talk about the previous season under Sven-Göran Eriksson, but for the second half of it we were close to relegation form. Since then it's a clear upward trend and that will continue."

And then:

“Mark admits he made an assumption that players wanted to come in, train hard and go through their dietary requirements. He made the assumption that gym and medical facilities were Premier League quality. Then he got here and realised they weren't."

There are two strategic benefits to this approach. One is that it creates a mandate for all of the changes Hughes made when he gets here - from intense fitness sessions to dropping Elano. The more he paints 2007/08 as a dismal failure, the more room for manouevre he has. It's a standard tactic - how many times has Harry Redknapp mentioned two points from eight games this season? But the second way is more important: by building up the importance of the necessary changes, he has his excuses in early for any 'teething problems' that may occur. In the relegation zone in December? Don't worry - they're still ironing out problems they inherited. I don't mean this as criticism - it's perfectly understandable. What is interesting though is that Garry Cook has totally adopted the Hughes discourse, just days after Hughes' future at the club was assured.

It's nice to hear how enthusiastic Cook is about the team, too. He says:
"It has been a rollercoaster. I cried when we equalised at Blackburn. I had to ask for a cigarette after the penalty shoot-out in Aalborg in the Uefa Cup."
I know there's a hint of the management speak expert about Cook, but when you hear him talk about City he does seem genuine; and so I'm inclined not to be cynical and take him on his word about this. The downside of the management speak aspect of Cook, though, is that he can come up with sentences which really struggle to mean anything. And he uses one of the strangest analogies I've ever heard:
We called it the bowling-ball syndrome. Every time you opened a cupboard, another one landed on your head.
I have quite literally no idea what that means. If you can extract any meaning from it, please leave it in the comments.

Friday, 22 May 2009

First buy of the summer

We've bought a sixteen year old German left-back - Nils Zander - from Schalke 04. This is the practice that Michel Platini always complains about, big English sides buying the best teenage academy talent from European clubs. But it seems to work - snatching Cesc Fàbregas from Barcelona seems to have worked quite well for Arsenal, as may United's taking Federico Macheda from Lazio.

Zander's profile on Schalke's website can be seen HERE.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Milito to join Inter

The long-standing City target is going from Genoa to Internazionale, along with Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta. Going the other way will be Robert Acquafresca and an as yet undisclosed bundle of Euros.

I'm sure Hughes has other targets lined up though.

For what it's worth, I think Milito could score a mountain of goals next season.

Ireland wins Player of the Year

No surprise really. For those interested, there will also be a TLDORC Player of the Season (and a whole set of awards), at some point after the Bolton game and when I can find some time. It may be as late as June 9th, but I'll try to do it before then. But it's quite possible Ireland will win that too.

Now let's get him to sign that contract!

Sights too low?

Paul Wilson has a good piece on today, arguing that Khaldoon's target of sixth for 2009/10 is too low:

If City's owners imagine a top-six finish is a base camp for attacking the top four next season, they haven't been paying attention. That is old, discredited, thinking, mainly due to the arrival of the new, but already discredited Europa League. If Mark Hughes wishes to make himself permanent at City and put his own fingerprints on the Eastlands revolution, he needs to aim higher than fifth or sixth. He needs to take the club into the Champions League next season, because he might never have a better chance.

It's an interesting article and well written too. I'm not sure I wholly buy it though: striking the balance between radically improving our team over the summer and carefully building on this season's foundations will be difficult. There's a danger that if we aim too high too soon we may bring in eight or nine new first teamers and watch the building work crumble around us. But if we aim too low we may not improve sufficiently even to make sixth.

So finding the approach which maximises our improvement won't be easy. And generating sufficient improvement to really challenge Arsenal or Chelsea next season is a huge ask. I'd happily take sixth now.

Target: sixth

I wish I could give this more attention, but I'm still pretty busy. If you haven't already seen it, Khaldoon al-Mubarak has given Hughes the target for season: top six. This sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Given the money we're going to spend in the summer and the lack of European distraction I don't see why we can't really challenge Aston Villa and Everton next season:
"I think a reasonable target next season is the top six.

"I think people see me as a reasonable and realistic man, and I think given what we have done this year and the ambitions we have this summer, a top-six finish next year should be a reasonable and achievable target.

"There will be money for new players this off-season. The areas in which the team needs us to invest are clear. We need more depth and to fill the weaker areas within the squad and plans are already advanced.

"I have been talking to Garry and Mark for weeks now. We are pretty clear on what we want, and I am clear on what Mark has identified as the areas that need to be supported, and we will step up.

"We all know we are not going to splash money around, because that model, that formula, doesn't work. You're not going to buy 22 new players and then the next year you win the Premier League.

"It needs to be done sustainably, with quality management, quality infra-structure and a quality manager by the pitch. That's what we are doing. The players will come, and the results will come."

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Problems with Ireland's contract?

Some rather unsettling, and potentially very distressing news in Tuesday's Guardian. Apparently Stephen Ireland's contract situation is not solved, and he's not happy:

"We're nowhere, to be honest," he said. "We're still a long way off. Talks have barely started and I don't know what's going to happen or if I'm going to sign or not sign. It's out of my hands right now. It's up to the club, not me. But we're way off at the moment and it's getting to the stage now where I don't know if I'm going to be signing or not. That's down to the club, not me anymore...

"I think I've done enough this year," he continued. "I've let my football do the talking and now it's up to the club if they want to make an offer or not. They haven't really made a proper offer yet. If they make me an offer, great. But if not, I've got two years left at the club."

It's hard to know what to make of this. The best case scenario is that he's just pushing the club for a little bit more money. It's pretty vulgar but everyone does it; remember how long it took Joe Hart and Michael Johnson to sign after Hughes said they were close to signing. But what if something's actually gone wrong? If Ireland were to leave City, after what he's done this season, it would be more upsetting than anything since the last relegation. But let's be clear: Ireland's said he wants to stay long-term, Hughes wants him to as well, and surely after the board's backing of the manager he can ask them to sort this quickly. Surely even City can't mess this up?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Khaldoon backs Hughes

This is literally it; MCFC Chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak has come out and publicly backed Mark Hughes:
City's supremo admitted: “I have been surprised at all the speculation, because I have always been consistent with everyone on the subject of the manager.

“Every time I have spoken, I have said the we have the highest confidence in Mark, and I would like to re-iterate that now. Mark will be our manager next season - nothing has changed."
I can't tell you what a relief it is to hear this. Our stuttering form in the last few months - and Fulham's comeback at Eastlands - made me fear a repeat of last April and May, one of the more distressing times to be a City fan in recent years. But we've got clear support for the manager, and for the first time since summer 2006 we can go into pre-season with managerial continuity.

Onward with Hughes!

Hughes watches Villa and Agüero

According to The Telegraph's John Ley:

Manchester City manager Hughes and executive chairman Garry Cook flew to the Spanish capital to see Villa, who was due to line up for Valencia against Atletico Madrid at Estadio Vicente Calderon last night. He has been a long-term City target since the arrival of the club’s Abu Dhabi owners last September.

Atletico forward Aguero has also been monitored by Hughes’s scouts this season, but Villa is understood to be high on City’s summer hit-list.

Atlético won 1-0, courtesy of a Diego Forlán penalty.

Cook on Hughes

From The Independent:

The goal now set by the club's owners Abu Dhabi United Group is to break into the top four next season. Mark Hughes has been reassured after a meeting with the chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, on Friday that he will remain as manager for the next 12 months. But the Portuguese newspapers suggested yesterday that this was only because Jose Mourinho had turned the job down first.

Failure to break into the top seven this year means the goal for 2010 is the Champions League or bust. Speaking after Saturday's defeat, City's chief executive, Garry Cook, said that missing out on the Europa League could be a blessing in disguise.

"I don't think necessarily getting into the Uefa Cup is going to change the impact of whether we are going to build," he said. "That is not going to make a difference. In fact, in some ways it might give us the chance to get to the next piece of rebuilding. We are relatively pleased with the year. It has given us a good chance to consolidate."

Asked whether Hughes would still be in charge when the new season kicks off in August, Cook replied: "Mark Hughes is our manager."

Milito set for Inter move

Someone with whom we've been repeatedly linked over the last few months looks set to Inter. So said José Mourinho today:

Talks between all parties have been under way and Inter boss Mourinho, celebrating the title in his first season at the helm, is confident of getting his man.

The Portuguese tactician told Italian television: "Now we can say it. Inter are not too far from getting Milito from Genoa, a striker in top form."

I'm sure we've got other targets we can go for.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Hughes says he's staying


"I talked at length with him [Khaldoon] last night," Hughes said. "The situation is as it always has been - we're very clear with where we want to go with the club and what direction we are taking on and off the field.

"We are in tune with what we want to do but we are totally frustrated and bemused by the speculation. It's come to a point where everyone has to understand that Mark Hughes will be the manager here next year. That has been made very clear to me."

For us 'Hughes In'-ers, this is good news of sorts. But until I hear Khaldoon say publicly and unequivocally, that Mark Hughes will be the manager going into next season, I can't relax. I know this isn't the sort of thing Chairmen usually do, but the chaos and change we've been through over the last few years justifies us fans being a bit tetchy about this sort of thing. So let's hear it, Khaldoon, loud and clear.

And if not, I want Mourinho or Hiddink in place by June 1...

Away form in recent years

2008/09 2 wins 5 draws 12 losses 11 points 18 for 32 against -14
2007/08 4 wins 6 draws 9 losses 18 points 17 for 33 against -16
2006/07 6 wins 3 draws 10 losses 21 points 19 for 28 against -9
2005/06 4 wins 2 draws 13 losses 14 points 17 for 28 against -11
2004/05 5 wins 7 draws 7 losses 22 points 23 for 25 against -2
2003/04 4 wins 5 draws 10 losses 17 points 24 for 30 against -6
2002/03 6 wins 4 draws 9 losses 22 points 19 for 28 against -9
2000/01 4 wins 7 draws 8 losses 19 points 21 for 34 against -13

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Spurs reax

Brian Glanville, The Sunday Times

City’s substitutions were very different. We were left wondering why their manager Mark Hughes took an hour before replacing the ineffective Felipe Caicedo, an ineffective single spearhead, replacing him with a two-man attack in Valeri Bojinov and Benjani. This produced an equaliser and could very well have gone on to win the game. Bojinov, who had scored four minutes after coming on, fired in a fulminating drive from the right on 77 minutes that had Tottenham’s Brazilian keeper, Heurelho Gomes, diving full length to make a spectacular save. In the 90th minute, Benjani headed not far over the bar.
Ian Ridley, Mail on Sunday

You could only sympathise with Given as he was left to wonder how Jermaine Jenas could pick out Huddlestone so easily wide on the right, how nobody cut out the low cross and how Richard Dunne was left standing by Defoe.

His side lame in attack with Robinho injured, Hughes took action early in the second half by bringing on strikers Bojinov and Benjani and, coupled with Spurs losing Jonathan Woodgate and Jenas to injury, the game quickly changed.

John Ley, Sunday Telegraph

Spurs dominated the first half with only Given standing between them and an embarrassing half time score. He denied Defoe, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Ledley King before Defoe broke the deadlock. Tom Huddlestone delivered the crucial ball and Defoe, with his back to goal, back-healed beyond Given.

David Hytner, The Observer

The result was just about deserved, given Tottenham's first-half domination, but it felt like rough justice for City, who had dragged themselves off the canvas to level through the substitute Valeri Bojinov. They almost snatched a draw at the death only for another substitute, Benjani, to head wastefully over from close range. For City, watched by the club's chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the result ended their own hopes of European qualification. Mark Hughes, the manager, clings to his job.

Spurs 2 - 1 City

  • I didn't see the game but I hear it was mixed: a terrible first half, a better second half and chances to win it. If you did see it, let us know how it was. Did anyone play well?
  • The big news is this: no seventh place, no Europa League - no eighth place even. The best we can do is ninth, but for that we need West Ham not to beat Middlesbrough on final day, which is quite unlikely. So it's almost certainly tenth place, and at most fifty points; a regression from last season. Hughes could well have an uncomfortable time when Khaldoon al-Mubarak comes to City for the Bolton game.
  • If there's good news, then it's Valeri Bozhinov's first senior goal for City. Almost two years after Eriksson bought him, and after two terrible injuries, he's finally scored a competitive goal. This is a great testament to his character for bouncing back twice. Let's hope he can have a good season and fulfill his promise next season.
  • I hope our away form's better next season.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Hughes goes on the defensive

I'm as pro-Hughes as anyone but this is a bit weird:

"If you look at the other managers around me in the league, a lot of plaudits are given to them and I don't get many," said Hughes. "The point I'm making is that the other managers in similar positions to us have been given accolades for the jobs they have done, and rightly so. Roy Hodgson at Fulham has been ­mentioned as a possible for manager of the year. ­Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke at West Ham have done a great job and got four-year contracts while Harry ­Redknapp has been labelled a miracle workerat ­Tottenham because he has dragged them up the league. I am just the one in the middle."

Hughes went on to say the criticism was "predictable and understandable" given that City had spent in excess of £100m on players under his stewardship, as well as making a world-record £93m bid for Milan's former world footballer of the year Kaka, but he also pointedly remarked that his own work could be put on a par with Redknapp. "He's done a good job, similar to the one I've done myself. He just gets a bit more credit than I do, but there you go."

Not really. Redknapp inherited a worse team than Hughes did (eight games into the season, too, rather than in June), in which time he's spent less money on them than Hughes has on City - and he now has Spurs in a higher position than us in the league. Regular readers will know how supportive I am of the Hughes project but the argument for his staying next season has always been that he remains the best long term choice, rather than that he deserves another year in reward for the great progress he's made in his time in the job thus far.

I know it's a cliché but the league table doesn't lie and we're no better than we were last season, despite the money invested throughout the club. So for Hughes to suggest he's done a really well so far doesn't quite ring true. Because with only two games left we're getting ever closer to hearing from the board whether or not Hughes will be in charge next season, and until we hear definitively from the chairman one way or the other we still can't quite be sure.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Dabo wins Lazio the Coppa Italia

City legend Ousmane Dabo scored the winning penalty in their 6-5 shoot-out win over Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia final last night.

After 120 minutes the tie was locked at 1-1, and after the first five kicks each it was 4-4. The first round of sudden death saw two goals, before Hugo Campagnaro shot weakly at Lazio 'keeper Fernando Muslera.

Dabo stepped up to win the cup for the Biancocelesi, and he did so: firing the ball into the bottom right corner of the net, beyond the outstretched Luca Castellazzi.

Ousmane Dabo had also won the Coppa Italia with Lazio in 2004.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Tévez considers City

According to Oliver Kay:

In the absence of an offer from United, whom he has accused of making him feel unwanted, Tévez is prepared to consider joining Liverpool or City as well as Chelsea, Inter Milan or Real, all of whom are free to negotiate with his adviser, Kia Joorabchian, with no objection from Old Trafford...

City cannot offer Champions League football, but the appeal of signing the forward has grown on Garry Cook, the chief executive, and Mark Hughes, the manager, since it was first proposed in January. Backed by the enormous wealth of Sheikh Mansour, the owner, the club believe that they can offer Tévez a scenario in which he would be the leading player in a team who plan to be contenders in the Premier League next season.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Cool Ad Watch

I love this ad.

I'm sure not many City fans will agree with me on this, but when I watch this sort of thing it almost makes me pleased that we didn't sign him. Kaká is such an icon, such a hero to football fans everywhere that to strip him of his Rossoneri shirt in exchange for £90million may not have quite felt right.

And there's also a fear that playing for City would, in a way, ruin Kaká for me. I mean, I can see it now: he'd put a pass just beyond the reach of Caicedo, he'd fail to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford, he wouldn't win games for us single handedly and you'd hear someone the row behind you shouting '£90million? You're shite Kaká, you're worse than Claudio fucking Reyna.' And it would never quite be the same again.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Derby reax

Kevin McCarra, The Guardian

The only proximity between these club lies on the map. No one expects Manchester City to be the equals of the Champions League holders month after month, but occasions such as this ought to bring out the best in Mark Hughes's team. After all, they had won both of the derby fixtures last season.

Great investment in the squad is ­anticipated, but the owner, Sheikh ­Mansour, cannot be satisfied with the return on the large sums laid out so far. There is a baleful consistency about City's away games in the Premier League; only two have been won so far in this ­campaign. They did not act as if they had any desire to make today's trip to Old Trafford an exception.

Matt Lawton, The Daily Mail

They didn't need Rooney against a disappointing City side who never looked like scoring once Shay Given had failed to stop a bouncing 30-yard free-kick from Ronaldo flying into the back of his net.

They had plenty of possession in midfield but, as their manager Mark Hughes admitted, no end product.

Robinho was awful, so much so that he too made a point on Tevez's behalf. If he's worth £30million, then surely the hard- working Argentina striker represents decent value for money at much the same price. It is a fair argument, even if United still think the valuation is too high.

Oliver Kay, The Times

Ferguson called it a “horrible game”, but it was not altogether clear why. It was about as comfortable as he could have wished a derby match to be at this stage of the season, with City showing plenty of quality but not a hint of penetration.

With Nemanja Vidic winning every header and every tackle at the centre of defence, making light of Rio Ferdinand’s absence through a slight calf injury, United were assured throughout, even if, by Ferguson’s admission, they did not begin to perform as they can.
Sam Wallace, The Independent

Too many of City's big names failed to deliver, including Robinho who was substituted towards the end with an injury. Elano did not really deliver on his high opinion of himself apart from one angled ball in the 56th minute which eluded Vidic and found Robinho on the dangerous side of Rafael. He shot over. United barely tested Given in the second half – they did not have to.

Given that these local confrontations are so often full of colour, this one passed off without much more than the usual bitterness. In fact it was just the kind of routine win that Ferguson would welcome at this stage of a title run-in in every respect apart from the conduct of his two goalscorers.
Mark Ogden, Daily Telegraph
Manchester City were not short of motivation in their attempt to check United's surge to a third successive championship, yet Mark Hughes's team never looked capable of defeating their local rivals.

They did not have a Ronaldo or a Tevez within their ranks, the £32.5m Robinho disappearing without a trace, and it was United's Latin pair that made the difference, before they proceeded to make their individual points to the watching world.

Ireland blunted, City neutered

This Guardian chalkboard shows how much Stephen Ireland's attacking threat was blunted today. He didn't make a single successful pass within eighteen yards of United's goal-line. At Goodison Park two weeks ago, he made five into the area and attacking wide positions. And with the strings left unpulled, City had no attacking threat today. A testament to the persistence of the underrated Darren Fletcher.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

United 2 - 0 City

  • Too similar to the 1-0 earlier in the season for my liking. The scoreline wasn't too bad but the performance was very insipid. Once ahead United only ever looked like winning, and we never even forced them to play like they can. Despite all the pre-game chatter about how much this meant to the players, there was no passion, no bite in our performance.
  • I was quite hopeful that at a minimum the de Jong/Kompany/Ireland trio would put some pressure on the United midfield and make it difficult for them to play. But they did nothing of the sort. United always had too much time and space. Had they wanted to play like they did at the Emirates on Tuesday, they could have done. But withdrawing Ronaldo before the hour mark showed just how comfortable it was for them. Losing to United is understandable - they are quite significantly better than us. But giving them such an easy time? It's not impressive.
  • The real disappointment was Stephen Ireland. I had such high hopes that he was going to produce his very best on the biggest stage. But he was totally neutralised by Darren Fletcher. He barely got in the game, and his passing was uncharacteristically profligate. And when Ireland doesn't play well, we struggle to do anything going forward. It was not until the Bulgarians came on that we had any pace or urgency going forward.
  • Seventh looks a huge ask now. The most points we can possibly get is 53, in which case we'd be relying on Fulham to take three points or fewer from Newcastle (a) and Everton (h). Which won't happen. But that's presuming we get 53. If we play like that at White Hart Lane, we'll get beaten badly. So we're looking at Bolton at home to get us to the fifty point mark, which isn't exactly a great return on our investment.
  • If there's one straw to clutch, it's this: Carlos Tévez's celebration, and Ferguson's reaction to it ('As for Carlos Tevez, he's a United player. I'm not going into it any further'), suggest that he's unlikely to be there next season. But even then we must be big outsiders for his signature. Do you think today's performance will have convinced him to join us rather than Liverpool?

Tévez wants out

So he told the News of the World, on today of all days:

"We [the Tévez family] want to stay. I want to play in England because it is the best League in the world and it suits my style.

"Any club I join, whether it be Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool or Everton, will be a rival of Manchester United. I would like to thank the United fans for their support. They will always have a special place in my heart.

"If I was a United fan I wouldn't want to see their player in any other shirt but I think they will accept I've done everything I can."

I'd love us to win today but don't think we will. But if we take Carlos Tévez from Manchester United it will more than make up for taking no points off them this season.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Various interesting player statements

It must have been a busy day in the Press Office yesterday, there's interviews and statements from players all over the media.

First is Stephen Ireland, who said lots of stuff we love to hear:
"I would like to achieve at City what Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have done at United. They have been fantastic servants to the club and won cupboards full of medals," said 13-goal Ireland.

"I would love to think that at 33 or 34 years of age I would still be playing for City in midfield, still loving the game, enjoying a bond with the fans and winning things."

"Those two United players are legends at Old Trafford and that is a path I want to follow and what I want to be at Eastlands, in fact one of my aims is to play so well for so long here I have a stand named after me!"
Then there's Richard Dunne, claiming that the uncertainty after the takeover affected some players but that they're over it now:

"Over the years, the club had possibly settled into a comfort zone, but that’s what the manager wanted to change. He had to change the mentality of the players already here and bring new ones in.

“The money came in, expectations rose and it was unsettling for a lot of people. Maybe we were dwelling on what was said in the papers every day, but I think everyone has grown into it"

Elano has an interview with Ian Herbert which has some interesting insights into his relationship with Hughes:

But the 27-year-old, who is fervently hoping for a starting place in tomorrow's Manchester derby, offers a different perspective on belonging to the richest club in the world; of how it feels to be behind closed doors at City's Carrington training complex when the outside world is linking virtually every available decent player with a move to a club where you are already struggling to command a place. "This has been one of the reasons for our difficulties this season," Elano says. "We can't go to the press and express our feelings because otherwise we get fined and punished. But in a way it seems unfair because all the time, on a daily basis, there are reports of a new player coming and it seems to us that we are not worth that much. The players should also have the right to talk about certain things."

And finally a Nigel de Jong interview with Daniel Taylor when he says all the right things (and by right I don't mean 'true' as much as 'what City fans like to hear'):

"There are so many more Blues than Reds," he says. "If I take a cab, the driver is a City fan. If I go to the shopping centre, all I see are City shirts. I was astonished when I first arrived because everyone was a Blue and I was asking everyone: 'How does that work? Manchester United are the biggest club in the world, aren't they?'

"People would explain to me: 'That's just a global thing, the real workers' club is Manchester City.' And it's true, it's a working club, and the people in Manchester can relate to this club because they are working people. They are very proud of it. That's why Manchester City is so big locally – not worldwide maybe, but definitely locally."

Friday, 8 May 2009

VK and NdJ back Sparky

No surprise really. He brought them both to the club, and now has them forming our two man screen in front of the back four. And their continued success is crucial to the continuance of the Mark Hughes project at City. Both they like him, and want him to continue as manager.

"I have found Mark Hughes a good manager to work with, but he must be given time. That is what I understood when I signed for the club - that he would be given time to build.

"Of course, it is not easy because everyone is expecting a lot from the new owners but there just has to be patience and that includes with the trainer. It is not always his fault when the players go out on the pitch and don't perform. We also have to have individual responsibility about the results. Mark Hughes is good for this group."
He said: "Since we have had clear weeks we have increased our level dramatically and players are coming back fit. We have shown what a good side we are. Mark Hughes' ideas can pay off when the personnel is there.

"We are in a better situation now to prepare. It's important to plan well, but in the end any player on the pitch is beatable. We won't just look to defend. United are in our way and we have to go there and get a result."

VK and NdJ up for the derby

You've probably seen these quotes, but they're pretty cool.

Vincent Kompany:

He said: "I've never played at Old Trafford - I've never even been there. But I have grown into these colours and into the club tradition, and I feel I am a Citizen! Don't worry, I know who the opponents are on Sunday.

"We want to win, and in a derby there is never a favourite - anything can happen, as was proved last year. Our motivation will be high, not just because it's United but because we are determined to get the seventh place.

"I cannot imagine that any of our players will not have the hunger, and United must realise that the derby is going to get tougher in coming years. There are some big derbies coming up."

And de Jong:

"For me this is one of the biggest derbies in the world. I have been aware of it since I was a kid and now I am part of it, I understand how special it is to the supporters and local people in Manchester - most of whom are Blues," declared January signing De Jong buoyed by City's four straight victories.

"We have been playing well recently but we will have to step up our game another notch at Old Trafford on Sunday. We both need to win the game for different reasons and it should be a great contest.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Slow down

Just to let you know blogging is going to quite a bit lighter over the next month or so. I'm about to enter a rather turbulent period in my non-blogging life and it's going to require all of my time, energy and focus.

This doesn't mean that I won't write anything, but I will write less. I should cover the matches, and any other big news. If Hughes is sacked I'll probably write something about it. But for general updates and opinions, you'll have to go elsewhere - I'm a big fan of Bitter and Blue. I should be back fully on 9 June, when I'll do a season review etc.

An obstacle

Will the Confederations Cup upset our push for the Vodacom Challenge? It's set to take place in South Africa in mid/late June. Brazil have matches against Egypt (June 15), USA (June 18) and Italy (June 21), followed by a semi-final on June 24 and the final on June 28.

And it could well rule our Brazilian contingent out of the Vodacom Challenge, which starts just three weeks later. Mark Hughes said of it today:

"I realise that players such as Robinho could be playing for Brazil in the Confederations Cup which is also in South Africa in June.

"But the Challenge is a very important part of my pre-season training.

"At this stage I will be bringing all my top players.

"But one never knows what can happen in the next few months."

On the plus side, we get to see Elano and Robinho playing in what would otherwise have been a month entirely barren of football.

Looking forward to the derby


The Belgium star said: "That's the fourth win in a row, including the Hamburg tie at home, and we have proved that we are a good side. We are doing what we need to do before a big game for us at United.

"I'm happy to say that it's not just our home form that is good but the form in general, because in there you have the away win at Everton. Four in a row where you get a good result - you couldn't build any more confidence for the next game"....

Kompany added: "I hope we can get nine points - I wouldn't be playing football if I didn't think we could win every game - but hopefully six or seven will be enough."


"We're all feeling strong at this stage of the season, rather than taking a dip, which is a brilliant feeling. We want to end on a high, and right now I feel the best I have ever felt. I feel fitter now than before, I am coming off at the end of games feeling that I could have run so much more. I hope that I feel the same going into the derby".

City set for Vodacom Challenge

City are in with a shout of picking up their second trophy of the Mark Hughes era - who can forget the 2008 Thomas Cook Trophy? - with the Vodacom Challenge in South Africa in July. We play Orlando Pirates on Saturday 18 July (I hope it doesn't clash with the third day from Lord's), Kaizer Chiefs on Tuesday 21 and then the final on Saturday 25.

I hope Garry Cook's booked the open top bus.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Elano still going?

In the wake of his recent up-turn in performances, I asked last week whether Elano has done enough to dissuade Mark Hughes from selling him in the summer. Hughes' refusal to offer him a new contract would suggest not. This is further reinforced by the impeccably-sourced Ian Ladyman in his report on the Blackburn game in Monday's Mail:
He may not be much use in a crisis or when points need to be hard-earned, but with City playing well there are few better to watch — and that includes his friend and countryman Robinho.

Hughes added: ‘You have to prove your application on a daily basis and that goes for everybody. Not just on a daily basis but on a match-by-match basis. So Elano has done himself no harm recently.’

Nonetheless, Elano will be out of the door quicker than a speeding bullet if offers come in this summer, but for now he is helping Hughes and City push for a European place and indeed the highest Premier League finish in their history.

We'll find out soon enough.

More Blackburn reax

Ian Ladyman, The Daily Mail
A place in next season’s bloated Europa League — the competition replacing the UEFA Cup — may not seem attractive to everybody. But Hughes enjoyed City’s run to the last eight of the old competition this season and his re-energised team want to give it another shot.

This was a peculiar game with the teams evenly matched but City winning well courtesy of a scrappy Felipe Caicedo goal, a classy Robinho shot and an Elano penalty awarded after what looked like accidental handball by Gael Givet.
David Instone, The Independent

Encouraging signs are materialising at Eastlands with a consistency not always associated with their half of Manchester, Blackburn Rovers becoming the victims of City's fourth straight win in all competitions and their 10th in 11 home games in League and Uefa Cup. Now victory at Everton has started to ease the utter embarrassment that has been their away form all season, supporters are daring to wonder whether a step-up is close.

Few would deny the presence of star quality. Even on an afternoon on which City began sluggishly and eased off as soon as they were given a major helping hand into a surprise three-goal lead, there were some memorable cameos.

Tim Rich, The Guardian

Manchester City are at least finishing the campaign in better shape than in their single season under Sven-Goran Eriksson, when a challenge for the Champions League dissolved into games in which Fulham could score three times in 20 minutes and Middlesbrough eight in 90. The manager knew he was to be sacked and his players' future was bleakly uncertain.

There have been times when it was possible to imagine that this is how Mark Hughes's tenure might end, counting down the days until a chairman who did not appoint him could dispense with his services and turn to a Rijkaard, a ­Mourinho or an Ancelotti.

Instead, Hughes can argue that Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Abu Dhabi United have seen some progress for their money, especially at a club that last finished in the top three in 1977.

James Ducker, The Times
Imagine what City could be if Hughes fits his brilliant soloists into a collective with the same determined harmony as his old Blackburn Rovers side. Only Manchester United have won more home league games than City in this campaign; only Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion have won fewer away. No matter which celebrities City sign in the summer as part of their owners’ grand project, the aim is flair with consistency.
Phil Shaw, Daily Telegraph

At home, City have won more matches and amassed more goals than anyone bar United, leaving the Welshman to bemoan their "frustrating" away form. Blackburn were ruthlessly picked apart in a 20-minute spell before half-time. Each of City's goals came from a South American, the Ecuadorean Felipe Caicedo opening the scoring, followed by Robinho and Elano.

The Brazilian performed like a man eager to press his claim for a new contract, whereas Hughes has remarked pointedly that he still has two years left on his present deal.


It's taken ten months and fifty three competitive games, but in the last four matches we've finally moved towards fulfilling one of Mark Hughes' main responsibilities: playing like a balanced team, a well-functioning unit.

A shame that it's taken too long - it's possible that fatal damage has already been done to Hughes' reputation in Abu Dhabi. But I feel more confident about taking the necessary six or seven points from our last three games to take seventh than I ever thought I would during those dark winter weeks.

Sunday rumour round up

  • Yet another Roberto Mancini rumour. This time in the Daily Star Sunday, which says that 'sources in Italy' claim that a £16million move for Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi is being driven by Mancini, who will be in charge at City next season. I don't know what 'sources in Italy' means, or how reliable they are, but with only three games left we should find out about ADUG's long term intentions within the month.
  • Also in the Daily Star Sunday is the story that Bayern Munich have set a £50million asking price for Franck Ribéry. This puts us in a strong position, given that his main suitor, Barcelona, may not be willing to pay that much for him. But I don't imagine we'll go for Ribéry unless we sell Robinho, which is looking less likely after his recent goal spurt.
  • A more likely transfer is Yaya Touré. The News of the World says that we are 'closing in on' a £25million deal for the Barcelona midfielder. He's a long standing target, we bid in January and he's high up the list for the summer. Touré's a good player, but with the signing of Nigel de Jong he could only really operate if Vincent Kompany was moved back into defence.
  • The NotW has something on a City clear out in the summer. The biggest name it suggests is Micah Richards, whom Aston Villa may be interested in. Nicolas Anelka and Carlos Tévez are mentioned as potential transfers in, both of whom are quite plausible targets. 'Hughes sees a front line trio of Tevez, Anelka and Robinho as the perfect blend of industry and flair', apparently.
  • Finally, the People brings up John Terry again as a potential target. It suggests a bid of £20million and £200,000 in wages. As much as I've heard this mentioned, I still can't quite get my head around the idea that John Terry would walk out of Stamford Bridge just for money. Could Mr. Chelsea really become Mr. City? Diego, Samuel Eto'o and Ribéry are also mentioned.

Blackburn reax

Duncan Hamilton, Sunday Times

Robinho always looks as delicate as a candle flame, but Blackburn could not extinguish him. He also moves as gracefully as a bolt of silk, and his daring runs and quick stepping over the ball bewildered his markers. At one stage, he took a long clearance and stopped it with an exquisite back-heel flick, which left Andre Ooijer hurtling off in one direction as the ball vanished in another. The defender looked distraught and embarrassed, like a man racing after a train who finds he’s dashed on to the wrong platform. When the two of them next came into contact, Ooijer took the desperate option, hooking his outstretched leg around Robinho’s and spinning him over.

David Instone, Independent on Sunday

Nothing better underlines the unusual nature of City's fourth successive win and eighth in nine home League games than the fact Blackburn's goalkeeper Paul Robinson did not make a serious save all afternoon.

Such was the dereliction of duty among the players in front of him that City needed to excel only in flashes to move closer to at least equalling their highest Premier League finish of eighth. But what flashes there were. If they are learning to win away as well, hmm, who knows? Not that their fans haven't heard that before.

Tim Rich, The Observer

Robinho's displays at the fag end of the season have belied the image of a footballer desperate to quit Manchester, and after Blackburn had made a familiar, ham-fisted attempt to clear Elano's cross, Vincent Kompany shielded the ball into the Brazilian's path and his shot travelled with mathematical precision into the corner of Paul Robinson's net. It was at this point – 2-0 down at Anfield – that Rafael Benítez had made his "game over" gesture that so infuriated Allardyce and Sir Alex Ferguson. Hughes might also have been forgiven for thinking the match was done.

Joe Bernstein, Mail on Sunday

Brazilian soulmates Robinho and Elano are finally producing the samba football Manchester City fans have been waiting for all season.

After a freezing winter of discontent, the South Americans have started to shine now that the sun is peeping through the clouds in Manchester.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Hughes on the win

From his BBC interview:
"We're a team that's in transition, we're a team that's building and going in the right direction and we try and play football the right way. We try and get the ball down and create chances, we have good movement in forward areas and we've got talented players at the club. When we're free flowing and we've got our tails up we're very difficult to contain."
And from Sky:

"As soon as we were able to get the ball down and play and get our good players involved in wide areas and further up the field, then we were always going to create chances and that's what happened. We scored the goals at good times. We were delighted with that at half-time.

"We've won back-to-back games in the Premier League, which is really important and we're very much in the mix for the seventh spot."

City 3 - 1 Blackburn

  • Another home win, another step on the road to seventh. Spurs and West Ham both won, so it's not going to be easy - but two wins from our last three games should give us a good shot.
  • I didn't see the game today - if you did please leave your thoughts in the comments. From what I've heard it was a good team performance and a comfortable win. Most pleasing must be Robinho's third goal in three games. He's now on fourteen in the Premier League which is a good return for someone's first season in England.
  • Elano's penalty makes it ten out of ten for him from the penalty spot at City. I think we can credibly ask whether he is the best penalty taker in the Premier League? I'd love to see him do a shoot out against Lampard.
  • If you were there, let us know what you thought.

Blackburn preview

Another must win in the race for seventh. We could actually be in the Europa League slot this evening, if we win and providing West Ham don't win at Stoke. So it's a big game.

The team should be the same that won at Goodison Park last weekend.

This presumes that Micah Richards will be passed fit today. Should he not be, the options are either Onuoha at right back, with Kompany in centre back and Gelson in his place, or Shaleum Logan. I'd rather have another look at Logan, and preserve the Kompany/de Jong axis in front of the back four. And of course Valeri Bozhinov may come in for Caicedo if he's fit enough.

But Blackburn will be desperate for the extra points they need to confirm safety. Allardyce has done well there, it's going to be a battle. I'm going to predict a hard fought 2-1 win though. And Boji's first goal for City...

Friday, 1 May 2009

'We are starting from the ground level'

Hughes has launched a vigorous defence of his management of the club to date, via a big Mark Ogden article in the Telegraph. He underlines the importance of the changes he's introduced in the background at City, bringing much of the club's infrastructure up to speed with top level Premier League clubs:

Hughes said: "One of the things I realised when I came here was that there were not enough things in place to enable this club to be successful in the future. I'm honest enough to admit that it has taken longer than I expected to change that. We are trying to get the message out that, unlike other clubs, we are starting from the ground level. Maybe people don't want to hear that, though, because it's easier to put pressure on our situation if those things aren't highlighted."

This is absolutely crucial. One of the best insight's I've heard on City's recent history is that the changes of the Shinawatra/Eriksson regime were essentially cosmetic. There was no investment in infrastructure or facilities, no overhaul of backroom staff, no fundamental change in club ethos. It was at heart the Warlde/Makin/MacKintosh/Pearce football club, but with a better coach and a handful of better players. And as Eriksson was undermined by Shinawatra in early 2008, we reverted to the Pearce era but the added element of international criminality.

It is only this season that we've had the financial means and the dynamic personnel to drive the club forward: the Khaldoon/Cook/Hughes team are clearly determined to bring all backroom aspects of the club up to the right level. This has led to improvements to the medical and training facilities, a new coaching team, and a series of senior appointments - including but not limited to Football Administrator Brian Marwood. It is frustrating that on the pitch we're no better than we were last year, but the changes made should see a real improvement in the long term. And Hughes is confident that he'll be here to reap the advantages in 2009/10:

"I have had no indication that I won't be here next season, but why shouldn't I be?" Hughes said. "I'll be really disappointed if I am not, simply because of what we have gone through and the things we have had to face before coming through the other side.

"We have done the pain this season, now we want to see the fruits of our labour. We have come a hell of a long way in a short period of time and that stimulates us because we have done a decent job here and it is nowhere near finished. The turnover of managers here hasn't helped continuity, because they have never had any. Basically, change is expected here. Change for the sake of change."

Opponents of Hughes often characterise the arguments in favour of the manager as 'stability for the sake of stability.' It's an easy point to make, but I do genuinely think that there is an inherent value in managerial stability, particularly in cases such like this. When Hughes has spent all year imposing his methods and understandings on all aspects of the club ('Sparkyisation', if you will), there is a benefit from allowing those plans to take root. Should he be disposed of, not only would all the money invested this year be written off (would Frank Rijkaard really want Craig Bellamy?), but we'd have to undergo the whole process again from scratch, with a whole new set of overhauls and teething problems.

This isn't to give carte blanche for the failures of this season. 0-2 at Middlesbrough, 1-2 at West Brom, 0-2 at Portsmouth - 0-3 against Nottingham Forest at home - there have been some terrible results and performances this year. But the club's whole foundations are being rebuilt. Let's not tear them down and start again.


From believable rumours to unbelievable ones. John Cross in The Daily Mirror thinks that City have 'asked to be kept informed' about Arjen Robben, who may be able to leave Real Madrid for £18million should they sign Cristiano Ronaldo. For starters, I literally can't remember the last time the Mirror got anything right about City. But the rumour itself is strange too. We already have two top quality left wingers - Robinho and Martin Petrov - and while there have been quite credible stories about Hughes thinking of selling Robi I'd be shocked if we replaced him with someone who combines de Souza's inconsistency with Petrov's injury problems. I love watching Robben in full flow but I can't think of anything more infuriating than his 'two weeks on, six weeks off' fitness schedule.

But I could be wrong. We'll see.

On the hunt for strikers

Hughes must have done a lot of media on Thursday, because there's all sorts of interesting things floating about. And there's quite a few stories in the Friday 'papers about our pursuit of a new, expensive, top quality centre forward.

Most focus is given to Hughes' comments on Roque Santa Cruz. Speaking about the long-time transfer target who has missed most of this season with injuries, he said:

"We have to make sure that any player we bring to the club is likely to be a success," Hughes said. "You look at all things when you bring in a player, and the injury record is one of those things. You have to do your due diligence; if you don't, then mistakes can be made. Our targets may well change because you can't put all your eggs in one basket. Roque was fit and strong for me in that first year when I was his manager [at Blackburn] and he played exceptionally well. He's a very talented player but thankfully he's not available when we play them on Saturday."

To me this sounds like a real cooling off. Roque Santa Cruz made sense as a signing last summer, and in January. But after a very quiet season, and with a summer window and bags of money to throw at this, he may no longer be the best we can do. I was surprised, then, to read Daniel Taylor's claim that RSC remains 'likely' to be 'the first piece of transfer business for City this summer.' Should Hughes' concerns over Santa Cruz's injury be too much, Taylor mentions Peter Crouch as a possible alternative.

Ian Herbert's take on the situation is rather different. He writes that Hughes' position on Santa Cruz 'remains unclear' due to the injury situation, which sounds closer to the mark. The other option Herbert talks up though, is at the opposite end of the market - another bid for David Villa:

An over-reliance on Craig Bellamy has already illustrated that another striker is Hughes' prime target. Barcelona's Thierry Henry is another in whom Cook has taken an active interest. But Villa, 27, fits the clean-cut image which seems to be among City's considerations in their pursuit of marquee names and also has the maturity which – Bellamy aside – the club's current collection of strikers lacks. City's biggest challenge would be persuading the player, a home-loving Spaniard who seems more disposed to joining Barcelona or Real, to sign. Silva, 23, an attacking midfielder capable of playing on either side of the pitch, may be a more promising prospect.

This is an immeasurably more attractive prospect. We know that Hughes tried to sign Villa (along with Valencia team mate David Silva) in January, but we walked away having been quoted a ludicrous price. There's no disputing that we can pay off a hefty chunk of Los Che's debt this summer in exchange for Villa. The problem, though, is the one we had with Kaká: How do you persuade a world class footballer to play for a mid-table side? We got lucky with Robinho - his discontent in Madrid was such that he was willing to take a chance on a move. But this summer Villa is likely to have offers from three elite clubs: Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona. And while he may just countenance leaving Spain to play for Chelsea, can he be persuaded to pull on a lighter shade of blue next season?

It's a question we're going to hear regarding quite a few players this summer.