DID you hear the one about the manager who got the Christmas sack with his team sixth in the table, in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup, beaten only twice all season and just coming off the back of having scored four goals at home to secure three Premier League points?
Not for the first time, the old Tommy Docherty gag which still decorates t-shirts at Old Trafford, comes to mind. There are three types of Oxo cube, said the Doc: light brown for chicken stock, dark brown for beef stock and light blue for laughing stock.
Not that there should be a lot of ho, ho, ho-ing in the red part of Manchester just now, with United’s walking wounded having suffered their own seasonal embarrassment down at Craven Cottage, but at least their fans know their lords and masters won’t be turning a drama into a crisis by handing old Fergie his P45.
Over at Mad City, they do things differently. Barely had the dust settled on another typically madcap 4-3 over Sunderland than Mark Hughes was on the way out, Roberto Mancini was on the way in and, stuck in the middle, Shay Given was doubtless left to mull over the meaning of words like “frying pan” and “fire” as he contemplated the latest consequences of the move which took him fro m England’s erstwhile most dysfunctional club, Newcastle United, to the new title-holders, Manchester City.
The manner of Hughes’ departure might have been farcical bordering on ugly but it was hardly a surprise.
Hubris has become ingrained around the boardroom at City since the takeover by Abu Dhabi royalty made it the richest club in the world and, almost irrespective of what might have been happening on the pitch, Hughes has had the look of a caretaker gaffer ever since the Middle Eastlands revolution took hold.
You could say that his face just didn’t fit, something which Richard Dunne knows all about having had his own card marked in disrespectfully cavalier fashion when, giddy with the rush of striking footballing gold, the club’s chief executive Garry Cook told the world that the Dubliner’s was not a name which would trip off the tongue in Beijing.
The message was clear: a new era of global conquest was under way at Eastlands and only marquee names need apply. Just how much say Hughes really had in Dunne’s departure, or in the importing of names like Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho, is one for the memoirs, but the sheer breadth and pace of the club’s facelift has left it looking hilariously lopsided.
If chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and his backers weren’t satisfied with the team’s drawing habit under Hughes, they should at least be grateful to the departed manager for having persuaded them of the virtues of bringing in Given.
Subtract Ireland’s No. 1 from the equation to date and, instead of having luxury problems, City would be in the kind of trouble most other clubs could actually relate to.
Mancini might have proved his managerial mettle in Serie A but the almighty thirst for instant gratification at City means his position is uncertain even before he gets his feet under the desk.
Like Hughes, Mancini already has “caretaker” stamped on his forehead and, unless he can turn the club into something closer to world-beaters inside half a season, the smart money will have him packing his bags and a Hiddink or a Mourinho answering the call next summer. If, not before.
Meantime, City, we have to assume, will go on entertaining the rest of us royally, while Hughes shouldn’t have to wait too long before getting gainful employment elsewhere.
He could probably do worse, at this stage, than a reverse-Given but that would be to overlook the fact that, in Chris Hughton, Newcastle are currently reaping the benefits of making the caretaker the manager, rather than the other way around.
St James’ Park as a role model for Eastlands?
Says it all, really.
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