Manchester City’s meteoric evolution comes into sharp perspective today when Manuel Pellegrini’s side face Stoke, managed by Mark Hughes, the City boss when ‘the money’ first swept in from Abu Dhabi.
The speed of change since September 2008 at the then named, City of Manchester Stadium, means it’s more apt to describe the Sky Blues’ transformation, as revolutionary, but like many historical revolts, things didn’t always go to plan.
Hughes was appointed during the weird, and perhaps not so wonderful, reign of Thaksin Shinawatra, the highly controversial ex-Prime Minister of Thailand.
For all his failings and shortcomings, and there were oh so many, the comedically named ‘Frank’ Shinawatra, did eventually broker the deal that helped put City under the safe and secure stewardship of Sheikh Mansour.
For that, every City fan should be thankful…but that’s about the extent of their gratitude to the Thai tycoon, who ruled his country between 2001-2006, before being overthrown by a military coup.
He appointed dear old Sven ‘lock up your daughters, wives & sisters’ Goran Eriksson, for one bizarre season in 2007, prior to sacking the Swede and bringing in Hughes from Blackburn in the summer of 2008.
Leslie Mark Hughes – the Welshman does so detest being called Leslie – was always an uncomfortable fit at City, never able to ingratiate himself to the fans, the majority of whom could never quite get past his playing career as an outstanding centre forward with The Dark Side over in Manuresville Traffordzonia.
But, credit where it’s due, Hughes had the transfer acumen to recruit some outstanding players including those who have since become legends, namely Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta at a combined cost of £13.2 million. Conversely he also recruited Tal Ben Haim, before City starting ‘shopping’ with the petro-chemicals Abu Dhabi-driven cheque book.
Robinho arrived for a British transfer record of £32.5m on transfer deadline day – Hughes had next-to-nothing to do with the errant Brazilian’s arrival – it was always a flamboyant statement of intent by the Abu Dhabi owners, and so the stage was set for an orgy of spending, where Leslie ultimately fell short of the mark.
The 2009-10 campaign was going well with the likes of Craig Bellamy, Nigel De Jong and Carlos Tevez at the vanguard, but results stagnated with a run of seven straight draws and Hughes was unceremoniously sacked on December 19, 2009.
Never a favourite with the fans, the poor handling of his dismissal, perhaps the one blot on City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak’s time at the club, won Hughes some sympathy, but by then he was history and his demise cushioned by a lucrative fiscal settlement.
Fast forward to now – just four months shy of five years – and the Etihad outfit are a triumph under magnificent Manuel.
Notwithstanding the mandatory dodgy Champions League draw that rewards City with an uphill challenge every season, the club is on a trajectory that sees anti-vertigo tablets as a ‘must’ in the staple diet of the Cityzens of Manchester.
It’s the stuff that Hughes must have dreamed would one day have been his as the manager of Manchester City. The reality is that Leslie and Manuel are several classes apart.
In subsequent stints with Fulham, QPR and now Stoke, Hughes has never tasted what would undoubtedly be a very sweet success, over his former employers,
He came nerve-shreddingly close as Rangers led 2-1 going into added time, prior to the ‘Aguerrrrroooo Moment’ on May 13, 2012, but that’s about it.
City need to ensure it stays that way today as they build on a 100% start to their title defence. History and recent form certainly favours the hosts.
Having won seven consecutive Premier League games, a win today would take them to within a victory of equalling a club record nine league wins on the bounce, set in 1912, slightly before the Abu Dhabi takeover.
Since returning to the top flight of English football Stoke have lost on all six visits to the Etihad and have yet to score.
The Potters went down 1-0 last February to a 70th minute Yaya Toure strike, but they succeeded in giving City an uncomfortable afternoon. Most opponents had succumbed to rugby score defeats at Fortress Etihad.
With Edin Dzeko declared fit after a thigh injury sustained in the 3-1 win over Liverpool, Sergio Aguero approaching match fitness levels and Stevan Jovetic in fine form, Stoke would do well to keep a clean sheet, stemming a run of conceding in each of their last 12 away fixtures.
Pellegrini has the sort of selection headache any manager would welcome. Having seen his side pick up six points without really having to get out of third gear, does the City boss introduce some new blood into the line-up?
Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard would love to make their City debuts, but it appears £32m centre back Eliaquim Mangala is still shy of match fitness levels.
Alvaro Negredo remains City’s only long term absentee, so who gets the nod up front? Aguero is world class, Jovetic is virtually on fire and Dzeko is as good as reborn under their Chilean commander.
Does Aleksander Kolarov get the nod over Gael Clichy at left back this afternoon, despite the Frenchman’s recent magnificent performances? Surely Fernando stays in against a side who can still ‘mix it’ despite Hughes’ attempts to refine the traditional Stoke style?
Pellegrini knows best, the team sheet will look good whoever gets the nod comes 15.00hrs.
City are supremely confident, a vibe that should not be confused with complacent or misconstrued as arrogant. If they are to win back-to-back Premier League crowns these are the games that have to be won – indeed, every home game needs to climax in three points banked.
So much has been said and written about the Abu Dhabi millions, billions and zillions since August 31, 2008, most of it in an anti-Manchester City manner, motivated by a green-eyed perspective at City’s new found ‘green-backed’ good fortune.
City supporters give not a jot for the jealousy and malevolence of their club’s detractors.
Those who begrudge the long suffering fans – some of the most loyal and stoical in all the land and all the world – are nothing more than hypocrites, embittered ‘bankers’, who’d have had their club do EXACTLY the same, had they been given the chance.
Anybody and everybody associated with Manchester City understands how supremely lucky the club is to have been the ‘chosen one’ – the Premier League club, selected for purchase by Sheikh Mansour.
A small deposit of another three points towards the retention of the title is all they seek today.
By David Walker
Dedicated to the memory of the kindest, loving and dearest man I will ever know – Joseph Colin Walker – who died on this date August 30th, 1996. To say it was a privilege to call you ‘DAD’ doesn’t come anywhere close to conveying my love, admiration and respect – a beautiful human being and top top journalist.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu