Manchester Man: Mark Hughes
Having played for United and managed City, Mark Hughes tells Jason Burt of his relationship with Ferguson, his lack of one with Mancini and how the Tevez incident wouldn’t have happened under him
Mark Hughes tells the story of his one and only meeting with Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of Manchester City, and the richest man in football.
"We were in the grounds of his palace," Hughes recalls, "sat on these sofas. There were all these Arab stallions, fantastic beasts, being paraded around. He was obviously going to buy some once he'd got rid of me.
"I picked up an olive or something and I'm chewing it, when the tea is served and Sheikh Mansour arrives. But I've still got this stone in my mouth and I can't spit it out because I think it will be rude but for the whole time I'm with him it's there; for about an hour. He must have thought I had some kind of speech problem."
Hughes chuckles. Relaxed and garrulous, he is far removed from the intense, perhaps reserved, image of him as a manager and the even more ferocious image of him as a player. His anecdote is, also, telling.
He never, once Sheikh Mansour acquired City on that dramatic transfer deadline day in September 2008, felt truly wanted by the new owners. He always felt that stone; that slight discomfort.
He also felt he "compromised" himself at City, allowing things to happen that he was not comfortable with -- such as the power base taken by football administrator Brian Marwood -- and which ultimately led to his dismissal in a brutal pre-Christmas sacking in 2009.
It's not a feeling he had while playing with such power and glory for Manchester United -- "I was there from 14 to 31 with a gap of two years, so I was with United longer than I had been with my mum".
Those experiences mean he is uniquely placed to assess both clubs ahead of tomorrow's derby. He says City "have incredible depth. In Europe, in the Champions League, I don't think they can get to where they want to be either this season or even next season because I think you have to build that knowledge. But in terms of the Premier League I think it can happen more quickly."
However, there is a heavy qualification.
"Whether or not the group as a whole work as diligently and with the same mantra that Manchester United have, I'd maybe suggest not," Hughes explains.
"Every Manchester United player understands what Manchester United is about.
"The players understand it's a privilege to play for United. They show the club that deference. I'm not sure the group of players at City understand that yet.
"At United there has been continuity with the manager, with the success they have had; it gives them a different dynamic."
Hughes was replaced by Roberto Mancini, which hurt, although he can offer a dispassionate assessment.
"I don't know the guy personally but looking at him from outside he comes across as autocratic. It's either his way or the highway.
"I'm not sure he indulges players -- tries to get to know players or understands players. I'm not sure he's that type of manager.
"He looks very focused and very driven in terms of what he gets from his players. But whether or not they will all love him when he leaves, I would think probably not.
"He never can put his arm around a player. He's not that kind of manager. He's got good players. But only time will tell if the potential of the group he has is realised.
"It's more difficult in the modern age, and with modern footballers, to be absolutely autocratic and not be flexible in terms of how it's going to be done and not understand that your decisions can impact on players, because they do."
Clearly Hughes disagrees with Mancini's handling of Carlos Tevez -- a player Hughes signed and who he now shares an adviser with in Kia Joorabchian and who has been told by the manager that he will never play for the club again.
"I never saw him volatile," Hughes maintains of Tevez. "I cannot think of an incident with Carlos. It would never have happened under my watch."
His "watch" ended traumatically. Twice during this interview Hughes states: "I had all the pain and other people are getting all the gain."
It is instructive to hear him explain the sequence of events that led to his departure and how he "compromised" himself in an attempt to "move the club forward". Among those was the role played by Marwood.
"The way it was sold to me was that I was still in charge of football things," Hughes says.
"I had this dotted line and I was shown all sorts of charts and thought 'what the hell's all this?' I had an understanding of business roles and what needs to be done. But, sometimes, really, it's about your relationships with people and that's the strength of the football club.
"Bringing all these business people and business consultants to tell people what to do wasn't right. The close relationships I had at Blackburn were a strength and I wasn't able to establish them (at City). There were layers of management that really frustrated me. But it was my fault because I allowed it to happen.
"It's difficult but I wanted the club to succeed and you could see that the train was going in the right direction. They did things that maybe they regretted and possibly would have done differently with hindsight. It was a situation we all found ourselves in."
Hughes was appointed under the ownership of Thaksin Shinawatra and once the Abu Dhabi United Group took over, soon after, expectations changed.
"We went from a team that had never been higher than eighth in the Premier League to the perception that we should win every week," he says.
Hughes embraced the ambition -- after all he had craved it himself. But he knew he was on weak ground.
"I enjoy going from a team that is in one position to shooting for something else," Hughes says.
"That was my ideal. To be honest, it was never going to happen because when you are not employed by the people that own the club then they have no obligation to you as a manager because you are not one of them."
It did not help that the owner -- as already illustrated -- was an absentee.
"They are not there on a daily basis so all they judge it on is results which at that time were indifferent," Hughes admits before adding: "Apparently I was sacked anyway four or five games before I actually went. We beat Arsenal, we beat Chelsea and that postponed that."
Indeed a 1-1 draw with Hull City was, he thinks, supposed to be his last game but he limped on for three more weeks until City beat Sunderland 4-3. Before kick-off, he knew he was to be sacked -- because of what he had heard, read and seen.
"I got an inkling because people weren't around," he says. "People were going away on trips, it was 'where is every-body?'
"You were asking 'what happened there and where's the press officer?' She wasn't around. You were left asking 'what's going on?'.
"People were phoning me up and saying 'you are getting sacked after the game'. Players were seeing that as well. It was very difficult."
That experience left Hughes "devastated" but the ambition burns brighter than ever inside the 47-year-old to manage again and manage the right club with the right ambition.
He has, especially, enjoyed his tussles with Alex Ferguson and relished the reaction the provocative 'Welcome to Manchester' posters brought about after City signed Tevez.
"I was shown it before it went out and I chuckled," he says. "People forget where City were.
"We might have all of a sudden got this money but we were going to have to work hard to attract players like Kaka. But because I was part of it I thought 'we've got to have a go here, have a real fight of it'."
That desire still burns. "I'm a manager and that's what I feel I should be doing," Hughes says.
"I shouldn't be in the house cleaning the kitchen floor.
"The difference this time from the time I left City was that I left at Christmas.
"I had had my fix of football and it sustained me until I got back in. But I am ready to get back in now." And with no compromise. (© Daily Telegraph, London)