Monday 15 December ~
Newcastle United’s first away of the season, 3-0 at Portsmouth, will have strengthened Joe Kinnear’s determination to hang on to the scorer of his side’s first goal, Michael Owen – although the player could still sign a pre-contract for 2009-10 with another club in January. That victory for Newcastle yesterday coupled with West Ham’s draw at Chelsea meant that one of Owen’s prospective suitors, Manchester City, are now above the relegation zone only on goal difference.
The richest club in world football still have a positive goals tally thanks to the 6-0 thrashing of Portsmouth in September. That match and the 3-0 defeat of Arsenal a month ago are the two times that Mark Hughes’s side has clicked and produced the type of performance that their club’s owners will have envisaged when they spent £30 million on Robinho on the last day of the transfer window. If the men from Abu Dhabi were aware of Man City’s existence a year ago – and that is by no means certain – they would know that in mid-December 2007 the team were in fourth place with 33 points.
City slipped to eighth by the end of last season but by general consensus had played some of their best football in a long while. Most of that side, managed by Sven-Göran Eriksson, are still at the City of Manchester Stadium; the other new recruits barring Robinho were brought in by Mark Hughes during the turbulent final month of Thaksin Shinawatra’s ownership of the club. It was Thaksin who decided to dispense with Sven who, given that he was a well known name internationally, might have kept his job if the star-struck Al Nahyan clan had taken over a month earlier.
That's not to say that Mark Hughes was a poor choice of replacement. Blackburn won only two of their first 14 matches under Hughes but by the time of his departure they were a durable top-eight team. In view of what they have endured over the past decade, most City fans would have settled for that but now they are being required to expect a lot more. The people who turn up to games at Eastlands with towels on their heads – some of whom may have been among those who taunted their Everton counterparts on Saturday with chants of “we could buy your ground and burn it down” - may be muttering about Hughes’s suitability for the task of elevating City into the Euro elite. But no one, whether it’s Jose Mourinho, Marcello Lippi or any of the other superstars of coaching, could deliver what the owners expect without being given time, which is the one thing that is not going to be made available.