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Aug 8, 2008

All change again

For the second summer running Manchester City go into a new season with a fresh face at the helm after Sven Goran Eriksson failed to live up to the lofty expectations of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Luckily for Thaksin he seems to have pushed the right buttons in coaxing Mark Hughes from Blackburn Rovers as any player seemingly ready to quit the club - including talismanic skipper Richard Dunne - appears to have done a u-turn after just a few meetings with their new boss.

Just what the City owner expects of Hughes is anyone's guess. Eriksson had been lauded for bringing a slick passing game to Eastlands which, for the first half of the season at least, threatened to put the club in contention for a Champions League place. As it was, City had to rely on the Fair Play League for a place in the UEFA Cup qualifying rounds.

In finishing ninth, Eriksson had equalled City's best ever Premier League finish. For a first season after a summer of new signings it was a triumph. And City's fans will never forget Sven for handing them their first derby double over United for 38 years.

Many were tipping City to struggle after Sven arrived clutching a handful of unknown players from foreign leagues. Blumer Elano, Vedran Corluka and Martin Petrov, however, proved to be three of the best signings in the Premier League in 2007/08.

Maybe City would have finished higher had they managed to sign a consistent goalscoring striker after Rolando Bianchi, an £8.8million signing from Reggina, proved to be a disaster - he's now back at his former club permanently after City cut their losses. Every team above City scored more with sixth placed Aston Villa 26 goals better off.

Sven's exit was certainly bemusing as not a single City fan had brought his position into question and many campaigned for him to remain at the helm. But Thaksin's mind had long been made up. A Carling Cup defeat at home to ten-man Tottenham Hotspur and an FA Cup exit at Sheffield United may have been crucial.

With megabucks to spend at an ambitious club, Hughes cannot be criticised for taking on the job. At Blackburn his hands were largely tied by the constraints of average attendances and a board which looks to live within its means. Thaksin, on the other hand, is able to provide Hughes with millions as shown by the signing of Jo for around £18million from CSKA Moscow, not the mention the long-running though ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of Ronaldinho.

Hughes will be under no illusions that he is expected to bring silverware to the City of Manchester Stadium. Trophy opportunities are at a premium in the modern game with the Premier League a closed shop, the FA Cup usually the same - despite last season's break with the norm - meaning the Carling Cup is their best hope of success. Winning the UEFA Cup at the first attempt is highly improbable.

Hughes, long touted as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor across the city, knows that there are plenty of pitfalls in this job but he will take plenty of experience with him into the role. He took the unusual step of heading into international management for his first assignment, transforming the fortunes of a troubled Wales side and coming close to qualifying for Euro 2004. He guided the nation, with which he won 72 caps, to the play-offs after beating Italy during the group stage only to lose out to Russia.

The ex-striker moved into club management in September 2004 to take the helm at Ewood Park, where he had finished his playing career two years earlier after winning the League Cup, and put the club back on an even keel following the departure of Graeme Souness to Newcastle United.

Hughes soon began to stamp his authority on the side. At first they were accused of being too physical but that tag had long been forgotten by the time he headed for Eastlands.

Rovers finished sixth in 2005/06 and while the club would be disappointed with a 10th place finish the following term there was progress with the signing of exciting players such as David Bentley and Benni McCarthy. Rovers finished seventh last term Roque Santa Cruz proving to be one of the captures of the season.

Hughes will hope he has pulled off a similar masterstroke in luring Jo to City from Russia. Much like City's signings in 2007, little is known of the Brazil international who has won only one cap for his country so far, which is extremely rare for a player of note from the South American nation. There were rumours of a bust-up with coach Dunga. Corinthians also feature in his list of previous clubs.

After splashing out such a large transfer fee City will be expecting the striker to cure their goalscoring ills. He has set a target of matching Fernando Torres' debut season in the Premier League. If he comes close then City won't be far off a trophy. But City will have to wait to see their new star in Premier League action after the 21-year-old was selected for Brazil's Olympics squad.

Jo won league titles with both Corinthians and CSKA Moscow. While it's unlikely he'll be able to replicate that at City, maybe he could help City to a trophy. A successful season for City would be Cup success and to be closer to the Champions League shake-up. It's all about progress, and if there is none then Hughes could feel the wrath of Thaksin.


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