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Macintosh: The Martinez master plan

Everton about an hour ago
Read
Sep 28, 2009

City could challenge under Hughes

Mark Hughes has the air of a man determined to go places as fast as possible. I don't believe Hughes is clock watching when it comes to how long it might take to win the Premier League title - if he can, he will take it this season. Don't rule it out. • Jolly: Petrov makes his point While all the pundits are clear that Manchester City are favourites for the top four, no-one is yet predicting that Hughes' very own galacticos can win the title. It is just too early, is the mantra from just about everyone. Not so, I suspect for 'Sparky'. The body language from Hughes throughout the match with the Hammers seems to indicate that he is not wasting time pushing for the very summit. And, we all know time is a delicate subject with Hughes right now! But, while time was not on his side in the Manchester derby a week earlier, a lot of doubters might be having second thoughts about City's title credentials when they take a close look at the league table after this comprehensive win over West Ham, and City's increasingly threatening position behind the front two pace setters with a vital game in hand. If they won that game in hand they would leapfrog Liverpool and be on the same points as the leaders Manchester United and Chelsea. With United losing surprisingly at Burnley and Chelsea losing the last 100% record at Wigan, it's wide open. So, why not City? They have a big chance while the usual suspects are looking at each other. Do you think they are not looking over their shoulders at City? I doubt it. This is City's best team since they last won the league title in 1968, and Hughes has spent Sheikh Mansour's money wisely, buying ready-made players with vast amounts of Premier League experience, and that includes the foreign players. Take Carlos Tevez, who scored twice, and might have netted six against his old club, the second former club in successive weeks. His adaptation to the English game was nurtured first at Upon Park and then at Old Trafford. Even without Emmanuel Adebayor, who has now completed his three-match ban, although he awaits his next punishment from the FA, there is forward power in abundance at City. Arguably the the best in sheer volume of alternatives. There are two intriguing questions for me, should Hughes take the season by storm. First of all, if City make it into the top four at least, as Kevin Keegan suggested, someone is going to have to drop out, and the candidates are Arsenal...or Liverpool. It would be unthinkable for either of the Red giants of English football, unacceptable, in fact. While Arsene Wenger is bullet proof at the Emirates, it would not be the same for Rafa Benitez if Liverpool failed to make into the Champions League, when so many believed they would win the title this season. Surely Manchester United and Chelsea are not going to miss out. But Sunday's clash at the Bridge between Chelsea and Liverpool is a defining moment for both clubs. The second fascinating question has always been who will replace Sir Alex Ferguson one day at Old Trafford. Ideally, it would be one of Sir Alex's old boys. And, Hughes would leap to the front of the queue if he landed the title and took it away from Old Trafford and delivered it to the Blue sector of Manchester. Hughes would not be lured away from Eastlands, with so much going for the club, but there is one job he would find irresistible, and that would be a turnaround in the City of Manchester. That is some way off with Sir Alex shelving all plans for an early retirement, but it remains a fascinating question nonetheless. Hughes has that Sir Alex look about him, always wearing a suit with the City badge, never satisfied, a fiery character leaping from his seat to fume at the ref, or fire up his players. Fiercely protective of his players. A lot of people assumed Hughes wouldn't last because the new Abu Dhabi owners arrived to chase any big-name manager they wanted. But they have been impressed by his iron will and determination. Hughes was given his chance, and he's taking it. How far he can take it this season could turn out to be the story of the year.

• Harry Harris has twice won the British Sports Journalist of the Year award. His book Down Memory Lane is now available.

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