27 February ~ When Mark Hughes left Manchester City back in December the English football media went into head-shaking overdrive. Don't these foreign owners know that managers need time? And Hughes' record certainly wasn't bad, was it? OK, he went seven League games without a win, but he did match Wigan's achievement of beating Chelsea, you know. So, can you imagine the volcanic uproar if the "mounting pressure" on Roberto Mancini – that mounts daily by virtue of the number of times the press reports on it – came to a head and he was dismissed after just one ninth of the time the "hastily sacked" Hughes was given?
True, performances haven't been great but it's a results business and the Italian has a higher winning percentage and a better points-per-game average than the Welshman. Why, Sheikh Mansour would have to be protected from rampaging mobs of disgusted Gillette Soccer Special pundits. Mark Lawrenson's 20-word paragraphs in the Mirror would be full of righteous indignation.
Or maybe not. I'm sure there'd be a few complaints as a way to attack the Arab owners, but precious little sympathy for Mancini. Many would see it as karmic comeuppance for usurping Hughes. Of course, Hughes himself usurped a manager whose reward for lifting the club five places and doing the double over United in his first season had been the sack. Well, he did spend a whopping £35 million and could only finish ninth.
The revisionism and positive spin at work in the aftermath of Hughes' departure was truly mind-boggling. Almost as mind-boggling as the ignorance and insularity shown when Mancini replaced him. "Roberto who?" said Hansen. "B-list manager" said Lawrenson. A B-list manager with seven major trophies to his name – the same number as Wenger has won at Arsenal, and seven more than Mark Hughes. Nothing in recent times has demonstrated quite so ably that British football exists in vacuum as the outrage over Hughes only being given a mere 77 matches to try and build a team capable of protecting leads against the likes of Burnley, Fulham and Hull .
In what other major league could a manager spend £110m, finish lower than his predecessor, suffer "giantkillings" at the first hurdle of both domestic cups and still get a second season in the job? And where else could a manager sign Jo for £20m and then write him off as a mistake just a few months later. "Having all that money to spend was a burden," the pitying press said. Not having to live or die by your transfer decisions was a wonderful luxury.
If Mancini does go, he can expect the same level of press compassion extended to Sven. There will be no rallying round, no talk of an "impossible job". Foreign managers, even more so than foreign players, pose a threat to the old ways and the media battle lines are drawn. They are supposed to be better and so they will be judged by higher standards, in order to prove that they are in fact no better than our boys. Hughes apparently needed and deserved longer than 18 months, and the fact that he didn't get it is taken as evidence of the lack of patience shown to Young British Managers. Mancini, with a new language to master and a new country and league to adapt to, should still somehow be able to hit the ground running. And if does go, then we will be told that City should admit they were wrong and get in another YBM. And that they should give him at least two seasons, if they want to be able to do things like defend set-pieces. Ian Farrell