11 January ~ Mark Hughes's sacking after he had taken Manchester City to a League Cup semi-final prompted claims that the club's owners had little regard for tradition. In fact the men from Abu Dhabi are perfectly in tune with City's history. No manager has ever been safe. In 1924 Ernest Mangnall, who had guided City superbly since being enticed from Man Utd in 1912, was released after the Blues reached the FA Cup semi-final. Newspaper talk of the time claimed that his contract wasn't renewed mainly because of the newly-laid Maine Road pitch. Mangnall, who also held secretarial duties, was deemed to be responsible for the surface turning to mud by the season's end.
Former FA Cup-winning captain Sam Cowan was appointed manager in December 1946. The following June he was forced to resign by the directors despite winning the Second Division title. The reason? The directors felt commuting from Hove was an issue. Yet when Cowan was given the job he had made it clear this was his intention. Cowan, a former team-mate of Matt Busby with a similar philosophy and approach, could have been a great manager. The players and fans knew resignation was forced on Cowan and made their feelings known to the board.
Joe Mercer remains City's most successful manager, winning four major trophies in three seasons (1967-70). But that didn't stop City's ambitious new board – including Peter Swales, who was chairman for 20 years from 1973 – from making Joe's final days at Maine Road a misery. Mercer was happy to step aside for his assistant Malcolm Allison but it was unclear what role he would be given, with the the new directors asking him to come up with his own title. Mercer arrived at the ground one morning to find his car park space had been taken off him, that the manager's office no longer had his name on it and was occupied by Malcolm Allison. Joe moved on and Malcolm followed the following season.
At Easter 1974, after less than five months in charge, Ron Saunders was dismissed by Peter Swales, despite the new chairman stating at the time of the appointment that he believed Saunders would be a great success, adding "if he goes I go". Saunders had taken City to the 1974 League Cup final but Swales felt the side would be relegated if the manager stayed. Ironically, the point gained on Saunders's dismissal day was enough to keep City up. Over 15 years later Swales's reason for the dismissal of promotion-winning Mel Machin was "no repartee". Maybe he should have appointed Bruce Forsyth.
For many fans, the most worrying aspect of the Hughes affair is that Eastlands was awash with the news of his dismissal before his final match. Indeed, the media seemed to know every detail of what was to occur that day. For most City supporters, the owners deserve some credit for sticking with Hughes during their first season. Had they dismissed him in the last close season, when everyone expected it, they wouldn't have come in for much criticism. Ultimately, sacking Hughes may have been the right action but the rumours surrounding it simply made City appear as unprofessional as always. Gary James
Gary James's authorised biography of City's greatest manager, Joe Mercer OBE: Football With A Smile, will be published in April and can be pre-ordered now