It’s hard to know where to start these days given the mentalness of the Borebatov saga, the takeover of Manchester City, the departure of Alan Curbishely from West Ham and the resignation of Kevin Keegan at Newcastle.
Fall guy #1: Mark Hughes
I do think the most pertinent place to start is with the biggest story – Abu Dhabi’s purchase of Manchester City and the subsequent acquisition of Brazilian winger Robinho. Much has been written about this already so I’ll avoid the facts and jump to the opinion.
Abu Dhabi’s sole intent is to make Manchester City one of the biggest clubs in the world and they have a bottomless pit of money to achieve this with. With that in mind, is the name Mark Hughes (who Emirati businessmen, unless they were explicitly Manchester United fans in the 80s and 90s, may not have heard of) really sexy enough for one of the biggest clubs in the world?
I will be utterly surprised if Hughes is still in charge at the start of next season, whether due to his sacking or his own decision based on rampant board interference. When he came in to work on Monday morning and was told that the club were bidding for Robinho, David Silva and Dimitar Berbatov I suspect his input was not sought. When talking to Sky Sports News on Monday afternoon about the Berbatov bid he sounded as surprised as everyone else.
Throughout December and January the media will be hamming it up, linking all and sundry to Eastlands and before long Hughes may have some big names thrust on him that he may rate as players but will have absolutely no choice as to whether or not he wants them.
What people tend to forget is the effect that the rumour and conjecture will have on hard working players like Michael Johnson, Stephen Ireland, Micah Richards, Richard Dunne and Michael Ball who have earned their place in the first team. Even the likes of Martin Petrov, Elano and Vincent Kompany are not safe over the next 12 months. Each player can arguably be replaced in a few strokes of a pen.
This will not be a happy environment for these players or for the manager in whom they trust. Hughes can tell Stephen Ireland that he’s first choice (which he deserves to be) only for Kaka to turn up for £100m the next day. What message does that send to the squad?
The message from executive chairman Garry Cook is that Hughes will have a lot of money to spend in January. Who he spends it on might be more pre-determined than Hughes would like. It’ll be a test of his character as well as his ability.
Fall guy #2: Alan Curbishley
Few people would argue that Curbishley did little more than an average job at West Ham. His well documented purchases of permanently-injured trio Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy and the now-departed Freddy Ljungberg have cost the club millions. Although Curbishley would not have discussed terms with the players it was his choice to purchase players with dubious injury records and he must take responsibility for that.
And some would say that West Ham by all accounts should have been relegated in his first season only for an astonishing run of goals from Carlos Tevez – a player whose suspect affiliation with the club remains an on-going scandal – and a last day win away at Champions Manchester United who were well below par for understandable reasons.
With the fans turning against him, appalled by the club’s collapse in form in the second half of last season (five wins in 2008), a shocking performance in the Carling Cup where they trailed for most of the game to League Two side Macclesfield before winning 4-1 and numbed by the poor quality of football, it seemed Curbs was on his last legs anyway.
As it turned out he had no sway behind the scenes. He claims the club sold Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney without his approval although this is dismissed by the club. McCartney spoke out in support of Curbishley saying that the manager was not consulted at all on the bid that took him to Sunderland. Curbishley was a dead man walking.
Fall guy #3: Kevin Keegan
For some it’s the funniest thing ever. For other it’s a sad indictment of modern-day football. Owner Mike Ashley rode (rolled?) in to St James Park last season with a promise to invest and bring back the good times to Newcastle. His first action was to find any reason to fire proven Premier League manager Sam Allardyce whose side – depsite being safely in mid-table – had been on a bad run of form and playing football that was even worse.
There were few fans disappointed by this but, even if there were small howls of derision, they were crowded out by the howls of joy at the return of King Kev, the man who almost delivered the Premier League title in 1996 before his team, well, bottled out I suppose.
But laugh as some might at the Newcastle soap opera, Kevin Keegan is one of the nice guys of football. Aside from the fact that he was a great player – and I am old enough to remember the last few years of his career at Southampton and Newcastle – Keegan has an honesty, fairness and decency about him that is lacking in the equally bitter and smug world of football.
You rarely heard him have a moan, he always praised opponents when he felt they deserved it and the passion he felt for his clubs, especially Newcastle, was blindingly obvious. The thing about Keegan – who walked away from Newcastle (twice), England and Manchester City (he resigned from Fulham to take over the England team) – is that he simply feels too much. He’s too honest, too hard on himself and maybe lacks the conviction that might have made him a top manager in spite of his obvious tactical shortcoming.
His resignation from Newcastle today, brought on by utter frustration at interference from the executive director of football (???) Dennis Wise (????????), could be a watershed moment in football management. Managers who have full control of the team environment like Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson are a dying breed in football. A manager’s job, increasingly, is to coach assets which are bought by executives in a boardroom – not the manager. No matter how many angles I approach this from it makes no sense to me.
But the last few days have underlined how the heart has been ripped out of football anyway and we may not see the likes of this for a long time.