MARK HUGHES has taken a thinly-veiled swipe at Manchester City’s owners after claiming the club had been plotting his dismissal for “some considerable time”.
The Welshman was dismissed by City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, with the club suggesting a run of results including two wins in 11 games had not been in line with targets set before the season.
But Hughes, who revealed the first he knew of his dismissal from Eastlands was after the 4-3 win over Sunderland and not before, as had been reported, disputed that interpretation of his tenure, and insisted the Abu Dhabi-based owners had been too hasty in replacing him with Roberto Mancini.
“I am extremely disappointed not to have been given the opportunity to see through my plans at the club,’’ he said in a statement issued via the League Managers’ Association.
“At the beginning of the season I sat down with the owners and it was agreed that a realistic target for the season would be sixth place in the Premier League, or in the region of 70 points.
“All of this was communicated to the players and we all knew where we stood. Whilst everyone at the club would obviously have wanted to see more wins, we were absolutely on target at the time of my dismissal. Only recently we had terrific victories against both Arsenal and Chelsea.
“I am very proud of the fact that I steered the club through the most significant period of change in its history. I have always been aware of the responsibility that comes with being afforded the luxury of a significant transfer budget, and I was grateful that the club supported me with significant investment in players.
“I very much regret, however, that I will not now be able to enjoy the success that would undoubtedly have followed in the light of that investment.’’
Hughes will now thrash out a compensation settlement with City, with suggestions he could be entitled to up to £3 million (€3.38m) after being sacked half-way through his three-year deal. His dismissal was criticised by the LMA chief executive Richard Bevan, who accused City of being trigger-happy.
“I think the decision had probably been taken some time ago,” Bevan said. “I think Mark and everybody else in this country realises that you can’t buy trophies in one season.
“If they (overseas owners) feel that, then we’ll continue with the sackings and we’ll continue with affinity lost to our clubs in England.
“If you come in as an overseas owner, you need to embrace the city, the supporters, not just the trophy cabinet.”
Mancini, meanwhile, has been given permission to start spending immediately after convincing City’s hierarchy that Champions League qualification is still an achievable target this season.
With City lying six points adrift of fourth spot with a game in hand, Mancini is confident he can finish the job Hughes started, provided he is allowed to bring in players in the January window.
Around £50m (€56.3m) is available for the Italian next month although Mancini is not intending to undertake a mass cull. Instead, he is prepared to give the squad he inherited every chance to prove themselves before showing anyone the door.
“I’m very happy about, and motivated by, this new adventure and I’m convinced I’ll be able to do well,’’ Mancini said last night.
The appointment of the 45-year-old, who steered Inter Milan to three successive Serie A titles, was announced at the same time as Hughes’ sacking in a club statement issued 90 minutes after City’s victory over Sunderland.
Mancini, who has signed a three-and-a-half-year contract, will be officially unveiled at a press conference at Eastlands this afternoon. Brian Kidd has stepped up from a role with the club’s youth team to assist Mancini, who has been out of work since leaving Inter in May 2008.
His contract is believed to include a £1m (€1.1m) bonus if City qualify for the Champions League and a further £1m (€1.1m) for each trophy he wins at a club that has not had any major silverware to boast about since winning the League Cup in 1976.
Yet while supporters remain divided about the way City conducted themselves over Hughes’ departure, Mancini is well placed to claim both bonuses at the end of the season.
Mancini will know by the ruthless departure of Hughes that time is not on his side as he looks to make a quick impression at Eastlands. But with qualification for next season’s Champions League still on the agenda, he could not wish for a better run of games as he adapts to his new role as a Premier League manager.
His first test is against mid-table Stoke City at home on Saturday followed by an away match at Wolves two days later.
And with fixtures against Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Stoke again, Portsmouth, Hull City and Bolton on the horizon, he has a chance to become a big favourite with fans, who were becoming increasingly frustrated with their team’s infrequent wins under Hughes.
Indeed, Mancini’s first Premier League test against one of the ‘big four’ is not until February 21 when City entertain Liverpool – the team they are trying to replace in the top four.
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