Mark Hughes seems certain to cross the great Manchester divide to become City’s next boss.
Although it is 13 years since Hughes wore the famous red shirt for the 467th and final time, his name is still instantly synonymous with Old Trafford, so much so that he remains one of the most plausible replacements for Alex Ferguson when the Scot eventually calls time on his incredible managerial career.
Yet, even by asking permission from Blackburn to speak with City, Hughes has shown a willingness to abandon the club where he made his name in order to make the Blues a major top flight force again.
Even members of the City hierarchy are playing down talk of Hughes being appointed within hours, pointing out the Welshman is not the only man owner Thaksin Shinawatra is interested in and meaningful negotiations have yet to take place.
However, with Dr Thaksin needing a quick – and eye-catching – appointment to appease the fans still irritated by his failure to keep faith with Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose departure was confirmed in a whirlwind couple of hours at Eastlands, the major question seems to be whether Hughes can work with the former Thailand Prime Minister.
Should the 44-year-old decide the answer is yes the rest, finance and ambition, will be automatic after Blackburn allowed Hughes to speak with City.
“Mark has made it clear to the board he would like the opportunity to talk to Manchester City,” confirmed Rovers in a statement.
“In view of this, the board have decided reluctantly to give him permission.”
In using the word reluctantly Blackburn have offered a pessimistic view of retaining a man they so desperately want to keep.
Hughes may only have spent four years at Rovers but his status at Ewood Park is massive.
Twice he has taken Blackburn into Europe, bringing in star names such as Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz in the process, while developing England international David Bentley has also benefited from Hughes’ guidance.
However, just as Bentley is beginning to look away from Lancashire, so Hughes must wonder whether he has taken the club as far as it can go.
While some Blackburn fans may question why Hughes would leave them for a consistently unstable outfit who finished below them in the table last season, the answer must lie in a hugely impressive stadium, a substantially improved fanbase, one of the best academies in the country, as well as Thaksin’s hunger to muscle into a Champions League spot.
Hughes can have no doubt Thaksin’s desire for success is every bit as great as his own, hence the departure of Eriksson, confirmed this morning even though the minimum requirement of a top-10 finish, bolstered by European qualification through the Fair Play League, was achieved in the former England coach’s first season in charge.
Providing he can accept the pressure of Thaksin’s demands, Hughes should be unveiled this week and begin a task that includes offering assurances about the future to Richard Dunne, Micah Richards, Joe Hart and Michael Johnson.
City officials, growing used to Thaksin’s unpredictable nature, will take nothing for granted until the deal is done.
But they realise Hughes brings an element of badly-needed stability.
They also feel Thaksin’s sometimes flaky grasp of the precarious world of football does extend to realising that a new manager needs to be brought in earlier than Eriksson – appointed on July 6 – was installed last year.
Eriksson, who is set to benefit from a £1m pay-off, will almost certainly be installed as Mexico’s new coach ahead of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign.
It will be Hughes that takes responsibility for City’s UEFA Cup adventure, learning which opponents they will face in the first qualifying round on June 27, before opening the campaign on July 18.