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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
There's no doubt about the identity of this weekend's biggest fixture, is there? It is, as we have said many times already this campaign, 'a big weekend for Rafa Benitez'. Mind you, it's an even bigger one for Mark Hughes.

After splashing more money than Victoria Beckham and Coleen Rooney could spend in a trolley-dash through Harrods, Manchester City's returns are yet to inspire. They are ten points adrift of the top of the Premier League, they have drawn their last five fixtures and they've only won once in the league since dismantling Arsenal back in September. In fact, they were doing better than this in Sven Goran Eriksson's first season. It's not quite what the Arabs had in mind when they pumped hundreds of millions of pounds into Hughes' transfer kitty.

Chief Executive Garry Cook has consistently backed his manager to succeed and has laughed off suggestions that his job might be under threat. Mind you, he also believes that AC Milan 'bottled' the sale of Kaka, that the Premier League should be 14 teams with no promotion or relegation and that he can brand anything from bottled water to electric cars with a Manchester City logo and find millions of people willing to buy it. He is, quite obviously, wrong about all of that, but he's not wrong about Hughes.

The gap between the big four and everyone else is absolutely enormous. Five years of perpetual Champions League success has given the elite a superior spending power and the prestige that attracts the best players on the planet. You can't break that dominance quickly. I said in the summer that Manchester City are only going to finish fourth if one of the elite teams collapses and, while Liverpool do seem to be doing their best to oblige, I've seen nothing yet to change that view. City are not contenders.

You can't just throw players together and expect them to perform at their best from the start. You certainly can't do it if one of them is Joleon Lescott. When you fill a squad with men who have deviously engineered financially lucrative exits from their former clubs, you can't expect team spirit to be indefatigable. Nevertheless, there is the core of a good team there and it will improve over time.

Mark Hughes has proved his abilities twice. Once with Wales when he led them to within 90 minutes of their first international tournament for decades and then again with Blackburn where he took over a pack of relegation contenders and quickly forged a solid, top-eight side. He will eventually succeed at City, but there will be no miracles this season. Football doesn't work like that.

Cook is always keen to talk about his 'project' at Eastlands and how he knows that lasting glory takes time. Well, now it's time for him to back those noble words up. Guus Hiddink's sudden availability may put ideas in the owners' heads, but Cook has to convince them that they already have the right man. A win today would put City back in the frame for that Champions League place, but anything less is no disaster. They are a work in progress but, even with all the money in the world, there is no magic formula for success anymore. Hughes must be given time.


Life President
May 29, 2005
This is what happens when you buy players on reputation and not form or statistics.

Robinho, as talented as he may be, has never lived up to his full potential. He's come across as a whinging sh*t who cares more about his bank balance than his performances and it's no wonder Real laughed all the way to the bank with £30m.
Adebayor, like Robinho, is surely talented but his temperament leaves an awful lot to be desired. He's not a team player, he never has been, and takes it upon himself to be the most disgusting professional on the field.
Carlos Tevez is nowhere near as good as he thinks he is. He blamed Ferguson for the fact he couldn't score goals at United, he's gone to City and still can't score. In fact, his spell at West Ham aside, he's never been amongst the goals in England.
Right there, you have the best part of £100m spent and absolutely nothing achieved. It speaks volumes that, so far this season, City's best and most consistent performer has been Craig Bellamy, a player very much in the Hughes mould... Raw, rugged and determined.

I won't even branch onto their defence, I could be here all day pointing out the flaws in a defence costing over £100m that doesn't communicate and can't head a ball. If it wasn't for Given, they'd be nowhere.