In defence of Sparky

January 22, 2009

mark_hughes_498041aMark Hughes will be breathing a sigh of relief this evening. You see, the man who signs his pay cheque – Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook – believes he is nothing less than “competent”. High praise indeed for the manager who took Wales to the brink of a first major international tournament and revitalised former club Blackburn Rovers.

Just eight months ago Hughes was being chased by arguably the two richest clubs in world football, Manchester City (a formidable financial force even in the days of Shinawatra) and Chelsea. He now looks on the brink of falling victim to the curse of the equivalent of football’s “get-rich-quick-scheme”. Chelsea have been through four managers under Roman Abramovich, while nearby neighbours QPR have turned over the same number in just over a year since Flavio BriatoreBernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal become stakeholders. Would it be such a surprise if Man City were to swing the axe after the Kaka debacle and with the club hanging in Premiership mid-table limbo?

If Hughes is sacked, it has to be based on results and not his profile as a manager. After all, Hughes is not some young coach who has been picked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight. He has played at Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, winning a plethora of titles and twice being named PFA Player of the Year. Before arriving at Man City, he had turned round the fortunes of Welsh football and stamped his name and style on the game in Lancashire. He also has an unparalleled record of helping waning stars reignite that missing spark. Under Hughes, Craig Bellamy scored a goal every other game compared to a career average of just 0.34 goals per game, while Robinho‘s scoring average has doubled at Manchester City thanks to 11 goals in 16 games. Then there’s Benni McCarthy, Roque Santa Cruz and David Bentley, all of whom feature on the list of Blackburn‘s top 20 Premiership scorers of all time.

Hughes is staking his career, at least at the top eschalons of the game, on that ability to spot a bargain – and I suspect the purchases of Bellamy and Wayne Bridge will vindicate his transfer policy in time. Whether the Welshman will still be at the helm of Man City to see the fruits of his labour remains a very different question.

Hughes’ management career First 11

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