Hughes is prepared to axe Manchester City stars
Mark Hughes will make a flying visit to Abu Dhabi today to tell Manchester City's owner Sheikh Mansour al Nahyan that he is planning a mass clear out of players, which may see the Brazilian Elano leaving the club in January and Wayne Bridge arriving, if Chelsea can be persuaded to part with the left-back.
Hughes is believed to be hopeful of securing the services of Bridge, who has started only four league games this season with Ashley Cole for company at Chelsea. Defensive reinforcements are a prime target for City, who have conceded twice in six out of the last seven matches and look desperately vulnerable to counter-attacks. Other defensive buys look likely for Hughes (right), but those heading out of the club may include the Academy graduate Nedum Onouha, midfield anchor Dietmar Hamann and Darius Vassell as well as Javier Garrido – who has looked out of his depth since Sven Goran Eriksson signed him – and Michael Ball.
The prospect of Elano departing will surprise most. Though he has never recaptured the form which made him seem like Eriksson's best summer buy, he has returned to form recently and has been influential in helping his compatriot Robinho to settle. But Hughes is understood to feel that Elano is not a positive dressing-room influence and not a player who can enable City to make the leap to elite football that the Arabs are looking for.
Surprisingly for a side with huge attacking resources, City remain intent on making a major play for Roque Santa Cruz in January, having failed with a £15m bid this summer, and may offer Blackburn Rovers a player plus cash to secure his services. The dire defensive error by City's captain, Richard Dunne, which gifted Tottenham Hotspur a goal on Sunday has given rise to a feeling that he may not be long for City but, despite Eriksson's reluctance to offer him a new contract, it is understood that Hughes has resolved to persist with him. The same goes for Micah Richards, a player who is going backwards at the moment and who has not impressed Hughes in training.
Though Hughes goes into his first encounter with Sheikh Mansour on the back of a ringing endorsement from the club's chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, there is a view among some sources in the Middle East that the absence of superstar names from his shopping list is at odds with the Arabs' belief that players such as Robinho represent the way ahead. Though City's poor form has not in itself put Hughes' future in any doubt, he has never been comfortable with the idea of superstar signings – preferring, it seems, Wayne Bridge to Barcelona's Eric Abidal, Santa Cruz to Kaka – and this might be a stumbling block. Some in Abu Dhabi say a new manager is being sought already, though Mubarak categorically denied that yesterday.
The policy of hiring big names was espoused by Sulaiman al-Fahim, the initial figurehead for the United Abu Dhabi Group, who seemed to have been moved from the spotlight when, to ridicule in some quarters, he declared players of the Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres ilk could be brought to City. Though his current influence is unclear, it is understood that he has put together a new report suggesting five names are needed for January.
Fahim could not be reached last night, but the prevailing view from the Middle East points to some soul-searching about the extent to which City can be developed the Hughes way. The statement which the purchase of Robinho represented and the way it made City the talk of the planet helped Sheikh Mansour realise what has always been the overriding aim of his £200m purchase of City – to bring global recognition to Abu Dhabi.
Hughes will miss only one day's training to make his trip, which sees him fly out tonight and return in the early hours of Friday. He seems to have an ally in Mubarak, who dined with the manager's family on Saturday. Mubarak rubbished reports Sir Alex Ferguson's son Darren, who manages Peterborough, or Jose Mourinho might be targets for the manager's chair at Eastlands. "This is a 10-year dynasty we are building and we are only in the first two months," Mubarak said. "We are calm and under control and we [the board] have the highest regard for Mark."
Eastlands exits? Players to be sold
*Nedum Onuoha (21, defender)
*Javier Garrido (23, defender)
*Michael Ball (29, defender)
*Elano (27, midfielder)
*Dietmar Hamann (35, midfielder)
*Darius Vassell (28, striker)