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Manchester City
 By Simon Curtis

Hughes, Guardiola represent first and latest chapters of Man City revival

It is almost 10 years since Manchester City then-owner Thaksin Shinawatra received an offer to purchase the club from a hitherto unknown buyer calling itself Abu Dhabi United. In that time, the club has grown at breakneck speed and now sits proudly among the elite of the Premier League and the small group of clubs that have the wherewithal to win the Champions League.

When the initial investment came flooding in, the club was given an immediate boost, breaking the British transfer record on the very same day to capture Real Madrid star Robinho from under the nose of Chelsea. David Conn, writing in World Soccer, called it an "epoch-changing takeover," while the normally taciturn magazine's cover screamed "the deal that will change football forever."

While that may have been over-egging the cake a little, it has certainly transformed Manchester City and altered the fault lines of the league they compete in. What had become a cozy cartel at the top of the league, featuring serial Champions League participants Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, was mortally damaged, allowing not only City to see a glimpse of light, but also subsequently paving the way for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.

It was, in many ways, the moment that has brought us the slightly more open playing field we see at the top of the Premier League these days, with old behemoths Liverpool and Manchester United struggling to keep pace with new, upwardly mobile clubs.

The arrival of Stoke City to the Etihad this weekend will bring those heady days back to the forefront of many City supporters' minds. Manager Mark Hughes was the man wearing the bemused expression when the football world was turned upside down in Manchester in 2008.

Hughes had come to City on June 4, just three months before City's new circumstances threw a global spotlight onto the Welshman. Writing in the match programme for Robinho's debut game against Chelsea, Hughes's bewilderment was palpable: "It has been quite a fortnight for Manchester City, hasn't it?" he wrote breathlessly. "The news of an imminent club takeover followed by the breaking of the British transfer record all in one day ensured that the football spotlight was well and truly on the blue half of Manchester on 1 September 2008."

That spotlight, as bright as it was harsh in those opening months, was on Hughes too, as he struggled with a side that had suddenly been spoon-fed one of the world's most gifted players. For Hughes, making a player of Robinho's pedigree gel with the likes of Michael Ball and Valeri Bojinov was one thing; managing the supporters' burgeoning expectations quite another.

"I came to the football club with the intention of winning things," the new manager continued, but it would not be until his successor Roberto Mancini arrived a year and a half later that City would make the breakthrough, winning the FA Cup, against Stoke City of all teams, after a trophy-less period of 33 years.

Mark Hughes and Pep Guardiola
Mark Hughes, left, was in charge when Man City were taken over in 2008.

There were many who reckoned Hughes to be incapable of managing a club endowed so suddenly with such an enormous transfer budget. Dealing with world superstars is not easy at the best of times and if, as the manager, your name does not carry the weight of men who have seen trophy-laden action at the football cathedrals of Lazio, Internazionale, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, as the subsequent occupiers of City's hot seat have, things can get a little tricky.

Hughes was a man overtaken by circumstances, perhaps the most unexpected circumstances that one could possibly have imagined for Manchester City at the time. That he struggled to get maximum reward from the bursting purse strings can be put down partly to the suddenness of the changes and partly to the newness of the environment for a man who had previously only been in charge of a down-at-heel Wales and a fading Blackburn Rovers. At Ewood Park, there had also been a generous budget, but the glory years under Jack Walker were beginning to dissipate and the media spotlight was far more forgiving.

Pep Guardiola, who will stand face to face with Hughes this weekend, has inherited the City job at a completely different phase of the regeneration of the club. It is now maturing into one of the continent's big-hitters. Guardiola, no stranger to steering the world's biggest clubs to titles on a global stage, is showing serious signs of getting to grips with a notoriously difficult club to keep on the straight and narrow. Even with its newfound wealth, City have successfully maintained a reputation for quirkiness.

As with Hughes's introduction of Robinho, the Premier League reconvenes after an international break. It is up to the present incumbent of the City hot seat to maintain the upwardly mobile form of the early rounds into the critical autumn period. If he can do this, City's epoch-changing developments will have reached another stage in the club's remarkable renaissance.

Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.


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