THERE was one comment I was drawn to in Mark Hughes’ lengthy and insightful interview in yesterday’s Daily Mail – and it concerned Tottenham.
The Mail’s chief sports writer Martin Samuel flew out to Tenerife to speak to Hughes at Manchester City’s mid-season training camp.
(It was an excellent piece by Samuel – billed, incidentally, as Hughes’ “first in-depth interview since the collapse of the £100m transfer of Kaka”. That’s a claim City’s official website and the Manchester Evening News might take issue with, but I’ll let that slide.)
Hughes – and City – have not been happy with the flaming they have received from large sections of the press following the collapse of the Kaka bid.
And the City manager said as much to Samuel.
“At the moment, we are the crisis club,” Hughes said. “But we look at what is going on elsewhere and think: when is it going to be Tottenham’s turn?
“I watched that game with Burnley the other night. Cheering every f****** goal, I was.”
If you take this comment at face value, the obvious answer to Hughes’ question is that Tottenham had their crisis in October, which is why they changed their manager.
But I don’t think that’s what Hughes was getting at. There was a sense in his comments that he feels Tottenham’s new manager is getting a soft ride from the press.
Harry Redknapp has lifted Tottenham out of the relegation zone and taken them to a cup final since replacing Juande Ramos in late October. But they only sit outside the relegation zone on goal difference, and were lucky to get past Burnley in Wednesday night’s Carling Cup semi-final.
In addition, Redknapp suggested that there weren’t enough “characters” in his squad after a 1-0 defeat at Wigan two weeks ago dumped his side back into trouble. There are faint echoes of his unsuccessful relegation fight with Southampton four years ago here. But not too many people are racing forward to question his abilities as a manager.
That’s understandable, given that Redknapp did guide Portsmouth to the FA Cup last season, and has enjoyed more good times than bad during his 25-year managerial career. But it’s also understandable that Hughes should be more than a little miffed that he keeps facing stories tipping him for the sack, when he’s been at City less than eight months.
Was he really cheering every Burnley goal on Wednesday, though? If he was, that suggests a dislike of Spurs which goes a little deeper than a few critical newspaper stories.
If so, what could have caused such a rift, given that relations were good enough back in August for City to sell Vedran Corluka to Spurs for £9m? That’s a question for Hughes to answer, not me.
Hughes isn’t a man who gets riled easily – at least, not off the pitch. He’s not a man who gives up easily, either. He had a dreadful start to his career as Blackburn manager (they were knocked out of the Carling Cup at home by Bournemouth in his second game), and recovered to take them into the Premier League’s top six.
From the interviews he has given in the last few days, I sense he is putting his foot down that little bit more firmly. He was a fierce opponent in his playing days. Don’t expect him to slack off now.