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Old 20th December 2009, 23:10   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Default Where Oh! Where Oh! Where is This Great game of Ours Heading To?

Where Oh! Where Oh! Where Is This Great game of Ours Heading To?

“Manchester City FC can confirm that it has today terminated the contract of Mark Hughes.”

In giving reason for the termination chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: "Prior to the current season beginning, with significant investment in players and infrastructure in place, the consensus between the board and coaching staff was that appropriate agreed targets should be set for the 2009/2010 season.
"The targets were agreed as a result of the player acquisition strategy of the club being radically accelerated in the summer as a result of very favourable conditions for any buying club.
"It was also based on the fact that the infrastructure of the club had been overhauled completely at great cost in order to create the best possible environment for the team.
"A return of two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set.
"Sheikh Mansour and the board felt that there was no evidence that the situation would fundamentally change.
"This is a particularly difficult announcement given the personal investment over the past 15 months on all sides and we would like to put on record our respect for and thanks to Mark Hughes and we wish him the best in his future career."
Manchester City Football Club can confirm the appointment, with immediate effect on a permanent contract, of Roberto Mancini and are also pleased to announce that Brian Kidd will join Roberto as assistant manager.
Commenting on the appointment, Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: "Roberto is a hugely experienced manager with a proven track record of winning trophies and championships.
"His experience and track record speak for themselves. What is absolutely clear is that Roberto believes in Manchester City's potential to achieve at the highest level and importantly in his own ability to make this happen.
"My hope is that our incredible fans will join us in welcoming Roberto to the football club”

So read the statement issued by the Manchester City Board at Eastlands this evening. For the past few days, stories in the national press had gathered momentum giving a consensus of opinion that irrespective of Manchester City’s result in the game against Sunderland today, Hughes would be replaced as the team manager by another high profile foreign manager. That this other manager was Roberto Mancini, and that his appointment was just awaiting ratification, became probably the worst kept secret in the game.

Being a Manchester United fan, I got no joy whatsoever when I heard the news of Hughes’s departure from our cross town rivals. To be honest, I get no pleasure at all when a man loses his job any time, particularly six days before Christmas. Yes, I know, there will be a compensation package on the table, not only for Hughes (who I would think was financially secure before this decision was made), but also for the staff who have been terminated alongside him.

However, the sadness for me is the damage that these decisions (which are becoming more and more common whenever teams are not only not doing well – but now when they are doing okay also) are doing to this great game of ours. As far as I am concerned, club owners and their boards, plus a lot of the people who run the game, have lost their sense of perspective. Their expectations are so high, and more often than not, totally out of context with reality. The main reason for this is that the people making these decisions and raising those expectations, could never ever in the slightest way, ever be called “football people”. Oh! Yes – they understand profit and loss accounts and balance sheets, but the fundamental thing that they don’t, and never ever do, is understand the game of football!

Mark Hughes, whether you like him or not, had done, in my opinion, a very good job during his tenure at Eastlands. Last season City finished in 10th place in the Premiership. This season, they are lying in a decent position in 6th place, have only been beaten twice in 17 games, and have also reached a Carling Cup semi-final. It is a great position for the club to be in and there is no doubt that 13 clubs below them would willingly change places with them. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Building a team (no matter how much money you have spent) takes time and patience – and that’s one of the root problems in the game today – time and patience – nobody wants to know about it. Success is expected, no demanded – now! The stark reality is, that it never happens like that.

Much has been made of the amounts of money that Mark Hughes spent in the transfer market in the close season. Al Mubarak’s opening lines in his statement showed how little he or his employers know about the world of football especially in England. Given their background, how could they? Notwithstanding how much money any club has been able to spend in the pre-season, targets are set at the start of every season by every club in English football. Surely that is normal practice? It doesn’t matter who the buying manager is, be it Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, or any other manager; every player brought in, no matter what his purchase price, amounts to a gamble. There are no certain guarantees, and managers have to have faith, and back their own judgment of players. It doesn’t always work. Ask any of the so called top managers. Each and every one of them has had more than their fair share of failures in the buying market. Players that have been a success after having joined from another club, have always needed time to “bed in”; to settle down into their new surroundings; have needed to get used to how the club and the manager operate. It all takes time. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. So there does have to be a trust and patience where the manager is concerned, and time is the most precious thing that he needs if he is to succeed.

So what were those targets that Sheikh Mansour and his advisors set out in front of Mark Hughes at the beginning of the season? The Quadruple? The Treble? A Double? The Premiership title? The FA Cup maybe? The Carling Cup even? I guess we’ll never know. But it is my guess that the expectations laid down and demanded in Abu Dhabi were unrealistic, and certainly, to any body else within the game, never had any chance of materializing this season.

I find it ridiculous to read that; “2 wins in 11 Premier League games” were not in line with the targets that were agreed and set. In those 11 games, only 1 was lost, and 8 were drawn. In 2 of the drawn games, City had to play the last 25 minutes in each game a man down due to sendings off. So far this season City have trounced Arsenal twice, beaten Chelsea, drawn at Villa and at Liverpool, and have lost a game to United. Hardly a bad record one would think? And one the majority of managers in the Premiership wouldn’t mind! What do these people expect – City to win every game and to sweep everything before them? Do they not know just how hard it is to win the Premier League or any other major trophy? Particularly in this present season when there does seem to be a certain amount of leveling out and with a few more clubs (and City being one of them) now meeting the challenge to the so called “big four”. Mark Hughes, was given the financial backing that he needed that’s for sure, but what he was not given were the three things every manager needs most to succeed – trust, time, and patience.

So now in their Arabic wisdom, what do City’s owners do now? Once again, like a lot of clubs before them who have gone down this path, they appoint a foreign manager! He’s hailed as the next Messiah, and certainly, sometime next week will be rolled out at Eastlands with a big smile upon his face, and no doubt a nice big fat contract in his back pocket. Obviously, the deal with Roberto Mancini was obscenely carried out behind Mark Hughes’s back earlier this week, but I wonder if the expectations and targets that were laid down before this season started, are now also the same expectations and targets laid down to Mancini? I wonder if he really knows how hard the task that lies in front of him really is? I would also love to know how City’s owners came to make Mancini their choice to replace Hughes? Who advised them? What really makes Mancini any better a manager than Hughes was? That he has won league titles and cups in Italy? Impressive though that may be, he’s hardly a manager who has frightened the rest of Europe. It’s my guess that if he doesn’t hit the ground running he may well find himself in the same boat as mark Hughes 12-18 months on down the line. As well as the footballing side of the job, England is not Italy, and living and working in Manchester is going to be a big culture shock for him after Milan.

I always find it hard to take when a foreign manager is handed, on a silver plate, one of the top jobs in English football. You may raise an eyebrow when I say that. But foreign manager’s track records in English football are poor to say the least. If you look at the Premiership since its inception in 1992, some 25 managers (if my memory serves me correctly) have plied their trade there. How many of them can you honestly say have been truly successful? At my last count I made it four – Wenger, Mourihno, Houllier, and Benitez. The rest of them all went back home with their P45’s neatly tucked between their legs. Houllier, although reasonably successful early on at Liverpool, was sacked eventually. Benitez followed with the same early success in his first season. However, if things continue the way that they are doing at Anfield at the moment, then I’m more than certain that in the not too distant future, he too will be departing for a sunnier climate. The reality and fact of it is that history shows that foreign managers don’t do well in the Premiership.

What does upset me after a foreign manager leaves an English club, is amount of debris that is left behind. Often it is un-repairable, or it takes years to put right. The thing that does happen with them though, is that after their arrival in England, they completely change the culture within a club. Is that for the best? I happen to think not. The problem for me is, that the market which these managers know best, is the one from within their own countries. Consequently, it is there where they tend to do their business and recruiting from. The local “heart” of the club tends to get destroyed and is left behind. Certainly, from what I have seen, that is the case at Anfield where only Carragher and Gerrard have that local pride beating within them. Arsenal and Chelsea have seen the same thing happen. The long term stability and culture of our clubs, is in my opinion threatened.

Foreign players arrive, but do they have that love of a club, that pure passion that players brought up from within a club have? It’s my guess that they don’t and certainly, for the vast majority of them, the pay check is the ultimate inspiration for them.

Foreign players arrive on our shores like leaves falling from the trees in the autumn winds. There are so many of them. It might interest you to know that since 1992, over 3000 foreign players have played in the Premiership. How many of them can you remember? How many of them have stayed in England for two or more years? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against foreign players playing in England, as long as they are top-notch. It’s been such a privilege to see so many great foreign players like Schmeichel, Henry, Zola, Cantona, Torres, Kinkladze, Viera, Bergkamp, Ginola, etc etc. They have added a magic and a quality to our league and game. But it is the foreign, pedestrian, “journeyman” type of player that irritates me, and sadly, for my liking, there has been far too many of them in our game especially since 2000 when this saturation first started to grow. They play a huge part in preventing our own local home grown talent maturing and developing, and sadly, a lot of our own kids don’t get the opportunities that they so badly need, and so consequently end up dropping down the leagues, and in many cases, are very quickly lost to the game.

Why does it happen? Well once again it goes back to the pressures that the modern day managers are forced to work under. Many foreign journeymen players are brought in by managers as a “quick fix”, and so often, the “quick fix” doesn’t work. Owners and Boards want everything now. Consequently, managers are installed in a fanfare of glory, and all too often, are out of a job within a year to eighteen months! No time or patience given to allow them to do the job that they are employed to do. They find themselves under enormous pressures to produce immediately and the reality is that it just doesn’t happen. The owners/boards appoint the managers – the manager is their choice – nobody elses. But if a bad choice is made, or for one reason or another, an appointment doesn’t work out; do you ever see the owners/boards admit that the liability is theirs? Of course you don’t. The poor guy is sacked and the next poor sucker is rolled out!

Foreign ownership is now becoming more and more prevalent at the highest level in our game. These people, who have come or are coming here, are not in it for the love of the game – far from it. They see and smell money – and lots of it. It is what motivates them and they are ruthless. Clubs have been bought, and on some occasions with millions of pounds worth of borrowed money, and those debts have been lumped upon the clubs. It’s the clubs who suffer in the long term, but along with them, it is also the long suffering fans who pay the price, and are fleeced because of their emotional attachment to the clubs that they support. Day by day, the genuine, loyal, grass roots supporters are being forced away from watching live football. It saddens me to see the ever decreasing numbers of children who can attend Premier League matches. And if you look around at the crowds on match days, it’s not only the children who are in decline. The numbers of young people in their twenties is also rapidly diminishing. The average age of the ordinary match going fan has increased.

But is that so surprising given the circumstances that exist in the top flight of English football today? Ticket prices have been inflated so badly since the Premiership began, that the ordinary, grass roots fan who loved his/her club, followed them with a passion through thick and thin, is now beginning to disappear at an alarming rate. Simply and purely, because they are being priced out of it. They are being squeezed and stretched financially to the point where many now have just said enough is enough. The Premiership clubs today simply don’t care abut the fans anymore. They are now referred to as customers and the game as a product. How crass. They don’t care about who fills a seat as long as it is filled. They would far rather have the lukewarm fan or visitor who is there for the experience, spends a bundle in the Megastore and inside the stadium, than the honest to goodness down to earth raucous fan who is there solely to support his/her team.

In past seasons there have been accusations that both the Carling Cup and the FA Cup have been devalued, and that club managers in the Premiership no longer give those competitions the respect that they both so richly deserve. But what has happened in the last week? Are we now seeing the same thing being applied to the Premiership itself? Mick McCarthy turned up at Old Trafford and played virtually his whole reserve team in a Premier League fixture against United. Whilst over the years the Carling Cup has become a competition in which the top clubs and managers try to give their young players first team experience, the last thing that I thought that I would ever see was league points being given away so willingly and wastefully by a Premiership manager. It has set a precedent.

McCarthy didn’t think that Wolves could win the fixture even if he put out his strongest eleven. He also had his sights firmly fixed on tomorrow’s game against Burnley, and decided to rest virtually his whole first team. I find it hard to come to terms with, that having come of the back of a superb away win at Tottenham the previous Saturday, McCarthy felt that his players couldn’t handle the game at Old Trafford. Why ever not? These are highly trained and superbly conditioned athletes, as well as being highly paid. If they or he can’t be motivated for a game at Old Trafford, especially given the state of United’s vulnerability at the present moment, then I think that it is time that we all went home. There is a service motto that reads “Who dares wins”. Faint heart never won a thing and if Wolves lose or even draw the game tomorrow then McCarthy’s decision will be seen for what I believe it was – shameful, and with utter contempt for the ethics and morality of the game. Are we getting to the point now where managers are, or will be looking at their fixtures and thinking “oh! we can’t win such and such a game – I’ll rest the senior players” and are then going into games knowing that they are willingly gifting the points on offer away to their opponents? Because if we are, the league as we have known it is going to be in a real sad state of affairs. Titles would be won or clubs would be relegated because of decisions like McCarthy’s.

I really do wonder and worry where and in which direction this great game of ours is heading to. I shudder to think where the game in England at the top level will be in 10 – 20 years time. The Golden Goose will not lay the Golden Egg forever, and it’s my guess that one day there will be day of reckoning – and I cringe thinking about the fallout that may well be left behind.
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Old 21st December 2009, 10:15   #2
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excellent Tom
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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Old 21st December 2009, 10:45   #3
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Yes, good stuff. I was uncomfortable with the way Mark Hughes was treated but didn't we have Fergie lined up before Ron Atkinson was sacked? Some of the practices aren't so new.
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Old 12th January 2010, 21:54   #4
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Great stuff again Tom. I also worry and as you say, Wolves decision to gift United with three points after busting a gut and winning away at Spurs was disgraceful and a disturbing developement. In my opinion the Premier league should have fined them heavily or docked additional points. Unfortunately the suits that run the league are worse than useless and therefore there is nothing to stop other teams repeating the act.
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