WE all knew Sven-Goran Eriksson was leaving Manchester City. We just didn’t know exactly when. The answer finally turned out to be 9am on Monday, June 2, when the club confirmed Eriksson’s departure on their website.
And so the man who led City to their highest top-flight points total since 1993 has been shown the door. In search of a replacement, City have started talks with Mark Hughes.
The Blackburn manager was one of the candidates to replace Stuart Pearce last summer, when Thaksin Shinawatra was in the process of his takeover. At that time, he knocked them back to stay at Ewood Park. Even though he led Rovers to seventh place in the Premier League this season, they missed out on Europe. Perhaps he feels he has taken Blackburn as far as he can.
Hughes would not be the first former Manchester United player to manage City. He would certainly hope to last longer than Steve Coppell, who managed 33 days in charge amid boardroom meltdown in 1996 before walking away, citing the pressures of the job as being too great. That season, City had five managers. If you think Thaksin is chopping and changing too quickly, he had nothing on Francis Lee.
Mind you, went through Alan Ball, Asa Hartford, Coppell, Phil Neal and Frank Clark at a time when City were nosediving from the Premier League to Division Two. City’s form on the pitch is nowhere near as bad now, which is why Thaksin has faced so much criticism for firing Eriksson.
“Thaksin Shinawatra appears to have confirmed his ambition of truning Manchester City into the English equivalent of Hearts,” stated an editorial in When Saturday Comes this month. Hearts’ Lithuanian owner Vladimir Romanov has been through six managers in three years. Having briefly led the SPL in 2005 after Romanov’s arrival, they now languish in the bottom half of the table.
There aren’t many teams who have achieved consistent success by changing the manager every year. Real Madrid might be cited as one, but they seem to have limitless credit facilities, and have still been inconsistent in the Champions League. Whatever Thaksin’s ambitions for City, they certainly can’t claim to be Real Madrid.
As Eriksson heads for a new adventure, seemingly as manager of Mexico, he may be wondering where his season at City went wrong. He may find the answer in six critical days in late February and early March. For that was the period when Thaksin began to noticeably start raising his sights – and the time when City’s season went into decline.
Up until then, the Thai billionaire had repeatedly stated that his aim for this season was a top-10 finish; his requirement as the first stage of a three-year plan to take City into the Champions League.
In late February, all was going well. Despite a New Year blip, the Blues sat fifth in the Premier League, ahead of Liverpool and only three points behind fourth-placed Everton.
On the final Monday of February, City faced Everton at Eastlands knowing that a win would draw them level on points with David Moyes’ men.
Eriksson’s men never got a sniff. They were beaten 0-2 and didn’t get a shot on target until the 85th minute. Worse still, winger Martin Petrov was sent off in stoppage time for a hack at Leon Osman.
And yet a few days later,Thaksin gave an interview in Thailand in which he vowed to match – even overtake – neighbours United as a world football superpower.
“Our modest ambitions don’t end with domination of the world game, we want to be a major brand in the commercial world, too,” he said.
His comments were aimed as much at a Thai audience as at City’s support.
However, it drew an intriguing response from Eriksson at a press conference three days after the Everton defeat.
Eriksson effectively told his owner to “show me the money”.
“It’s realistic that we can be on the same footing as United in the future if the resources are there,” Eriksson said.
“Remember that Chelsea were a good team, but only started to compete with United and Arsenal when Roman Abramovich came in. That was a huge scale of investment, but Thaksin wants to do that.”
The message was simple: Premier League success does not come cheap.
And to prove it, two days after Eriksson made those comments, City turned in one of their worst home performances of the season, in a goalless draw at home to Wigan.
There was none of the attacking flair that Thaksin wanted to see; Eriksson played with Benjani as a lone striker and the Blues struggled to create chances.
After that game, fans and journalists alike talked of the need for an overhaul of the playing squad if progress was to be maintained.
There is little point, after all, talking about world domination when you can’t beat Wigan.
Hughes, it seems, will now get the chance to take City into next season’s UEFA Cup. He will know already that he will have to significantly improve on Eriksson’s ninth-place finish.
Winning over any City fans suspicious of his United past will, I suspect, be the least of his worries.