A lot is made of the way the sacked Avram Grant, Martin Jol and Sven-Goran Eriksson were treated by Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City respectively this season. Little loyalty was shown to the managers who failed to meet the expectations of their owners and now reports suggest that the new Man City manager Mark Hughes has been told he will be sacked if he does not finish in the top six next season.
But is it really unfair to jettison someone who is not meeting their stated objectives in the unpredictable world of football?
Aside from the big salary, the fantasy football spending budget (when compared to his Blackburn operations), bigger crowds and a tilt at the UEFA Cup, there looks to be little upside for Mark Hughes. The Welshman has put many Blackburn fans noses out of joint with his decision to move, what they term as, “sideways”. At his new club the reception has been lukewarm with his long-standing Manchester United affiliation not easily forgiven.
Although quotes to prove the story are thin on the ground, the feeling is that club owner Thaksin Shinawatra will sack Hughes if he does not finish in the top six. The rationale is that he did not sack one manager for falling to match his lofty ambitions only to appoint a new man with lower expectations.
On the surface Hughes has a team with more quality and potential than the one he achieved admirably with at Ewood Park. In Joe Hart he has my tip for the next England goalkeeper. Micah Richards, Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland and Benjani bring quality and Premiership experience; Martin Petrov and Elano can enhance that if they find consistent form and quit the sulking.
Achieving a top six place will be a tall order for Hughes but he goes in to the challenge with his eyes wide open. I doubt Shinawatra will be a massive stickler if, say, Hughes finishes 7th, reaches a few cup semi-finals and has the team playing quality football and getting results at the end of the season. The problem for Eriksson is that his last four months in charge were rubbish and their top half finish was mainly down to their early season results.
Owners are well within their rights to lay out expectations, reasonable or otherwise, for managers. Roy Keane, loathsome character as he sometimes was, was never happy with under-performing and under-achieving. He balled his Ireland and Manchester United team mates out everytime he perceived they were coming up short or were lacking ambition.
The well-worn cliché about how Alex Ferguson took five years to win anything and almost got sacked in the eighties is a tale from another era. Arsene Wenger won the double in his first full season, Jose Mourinho won back-to-back titles in his first two seasons and Rafa Benitez (Premier League failures aside) won the Champions League in his first season.
Managers are hired to bring clubs forward. For Rafa Benitez to challenge for the title this season is equivalent to Manchester City or Tottenham finishing in the top six, Newcastle consolidating in the top half of the table or Sunderland finishing mid-table. Spare a thought for David Moyes at Everton who has really over-achieved in the last few seasons and has little hope of breaking the top four. A top six finish for him is a minimum requirement and he probably has a similar mindset to Sam Allardyce when the former Bolton manager decided he had brought the club as far as he could.
Mark Hughes will struggle to finish in the top six but if he gets fired at the end of the season and his reputation is damaged the only man to blame is himself.