English clubs · Football finances & business · Football managers

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes comes as close as any other player over the past 35 years to being my all-time favourite player, but I feel the adverse reaction to his sacking by Manchester City after their game against Sunderland has been overdone.

The comments by Alex Ferguson and Steve Bruce ring particularly hollow.  They should look at themselves first.

With regard to Alex Ferguson:

  • In the summer of 1986, “there had been speculation that he would take over from Ron Atkinson at Manchester United, who had slumped to fourth in the English top flight after a 10-match winning start [to the 1985-86 season] had made title glory seem inevitable. Although Ferguson remained at [Aberdeen] over the summer, he did eventually join Manchester United when Atkinson was sacked in November 1986.”

As for Steve Bruce:

“… Bruce remained out of the game until he was appointed manager of Wigan Athletic in April 2001. The team reached the Second Division play-offs but lost in the semi-finals, and Bruce almost immediately left the club, where he had been in charge for less than two months, to take over as manager of Crystal Palace.

Although his new club began the 2001–02 season strongly, topping the First Division table and looking well placed for regaining the Premier League place that the club had last held in the 1997–98 season, Bruce tendered his resignation less than three months into the season in order to return to Birmingham City as manager. Although he was initially prevented from doing so by an injunction taken out by Crystal Palace, he was eventually allowed to join the Midlands-based club after a compensation package was agreed. By now he had acquired a reputation as a manager who rarely held down a job for a significant length of time.”


… later Birmingham director David Sullivan publicly stated that the club had “priced Steve out of a move to Newcastle” ….

— As required under the terms of his contract, Wigan agreed to pay Birmingham compensation for the loss of his services of around £3m, and they were then allowed to speak to him. On 19 November [2007], Wigan announced the signing of Bruce for a second time.


….  On 27 May 2009, Bruce was reported to have been given permission to talk to Sunderland ….  Bruce was confirmed as the new manager of Sunderland on 3 June after signing a three-year contract.  He was joined at Sunderland by three of his former Wigan Athletic coaching staff, assistant Eric Black, goalkeeping coach Nigel Spink, and reserve-team coach Keith Bertschin.


There is a degree of xenophobia in their comments.  After all, we have a British manager sacked by the foreign owners of a British football club and replaced by a foreign manager.

Ferguson also appears to have gotten his facts wrong.  He is quoted as saying:

“I don’t know how they could have done it. For Mark, having to go through the game [against Sunderland], knowing that was going to happen at the end of it must have been terrible.”

On the other hand, according to BBC Sport, “Mark Hughes insists he did not find out he was going to be sacked as manager by Manchester City until after Saturday’s thrilling 4-3 victory over Sunderland.”

The comments by Roy Keane, another United old boy, were even more bizarre.

Apart from the fact that United’s greatest ever manager, Matt Busby, and Denis Law (who “holds a United record for scoring 46 goals in a single season”), both played for Manchester City before their famous association with United, there are much earlier connections between the clubs:

  • “James Ernest Mangnall (13 January 1866 – 29 January 1932) was an English football manager, most famously with both Manchester teams – United and City – and is the only man to have managed both teams…..He was to become the first successful manager at United. He started his management at Manchester United in 1903 and saw his team narrowly miss promotion in his first two seasons before success at the third attempt. In the first season in the First Division the club finished in mid-table. However, in only their second season in the First Division, he managed United to their first ever League Championship in 1907-08 by a nine-point margin over Aston Villa. The following year saw United drop below mid-table but the club won its first FA Cup with a 1-0 victory in the final against Bristol City, the winner scored by Sandy Turnbull. The following season saw no new silverware but the team improved its league position to fifth. The following season the club were champions again, again beating Aston Villa into second place, this time by just one point; that would be club’s last league championship for over 40 years – its longest ever run without a league title. The next season was his last in charge at the club; he would eventually leave for a similar position at Manchester City…..Mangnall’s place in Mancunian football is significant as many believe he was the instigator behind United’s move to Old Trafford and City’s move to Maine Road.”

We also have many journalists who were critical of Mark Hughes’ record this season up in arms over his sacking.  Even discounting tabloid reporters as “journalists”, we have Phil McNulty, BBC Sports chief football writer.  After Manchester City drew 2-2 away at Liverpool on 21 November 2009, he wrote:

“I would not have expected them to go “gung ho”, to use Mark Hughes’ term, but they sat on the back foot for far too long.

This approach was even more mystifying to me because Liverpool were so obviously under-strength and lacking in confidence. It was, in my opinion, a real opportunity for Hughes and Manchester City to show exactly what they were about and they missed it.

The flaw in the approach was exposed when they scored two quick goals once they put their foot on the pedal.

Has this been a common fault with City away from home this season? And let’s hear what Liverpool fans felt about their team and the current situation.

Liverpool were very poor, but I make allowances for them (just slight allowances anyway) because they had so many injuries and lost two players early on. Or am I being over-generous?

There was no excuse for City’s tame approach. You can see why they have drawn at places such as Wigan and Birmingham, where they would surely hope to win to fulfil their ambitions.”

When Hughes was sacked on 19 December 2009,  he wrote a piece entitled “Hughes harshly treated by Man City”.

After the Liverpool game, Manchester City’s league results were as follows:

  • 1-1 draw at home against Hull City on 28 November 2009
  • 2-1 win at home against Chelsea on 5 December 2009
  • 3-3 draw away against Bolton on 12 December 2009
  • 0-3 loss away against Tottenham on 16 December 2009
  • 4-3 win at home against Sunderland on 19 December 2009

The home win against Chelsea was clearly a flash in the pan, in the middle of a series of draws not only “at places such as Wigan and Birmingham” but at Bolton and at home to Hull City as well.   There was also the 3-3 draw at home to Burnley on 7 November 2009, Burnley’s only point away from home so far this season.

3 goals conceded in successive games at Bolton and Tottenham clearly showed that Hughes’ side couldn’t defend, an inference confirmed by conceding a further 3 goals in his final game at home to Sunderland.


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