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Oct 16, 2009

Harris: Deciphering Hughes' 'manager speak'

Mark Hughes is one of my favourite managers. I liked him as a player and recall one memorable lunch with him in Barcelona when he gave a small, select group of football writers one of his rare interviews as a young player, shy and distrustful of the media.

• Harris: Barca target Robinho
• Hughes denies Robinho talk

Hughes was linked with a profusion of big-time jobs before leaving Blackburn, including Chelsea, but he has hit the big time with Manchester City, or rather the big time came to City while he was manager at Eastlands.

Hughes is coping very well indeed with the high expectations now at City, and one suspected that he would cope after experiencing life at the very top at the Nou Camp, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge as a player.

What I like about Hughes the City manager is that he is very believable. Some managers are not. So, when he discusses the issues, irrespective of how contentious, it is worth listening to the answers.

However, managers have a secret language all of their own, well known to other bosses and some of their directors. There should be a guide book, called Managers' Speak, to help the football fan interpret the dressing room and boardroom secrets.

Hughes' comments about Robinho and the renewed and increased speculation that he is heading off to Barcelona in the January transfer window are certainly worth analyising with the aid of our handbook, Managers' Speak.

1. "There is always speculation and noise surrounding Robinho."

That means, the manager has to put up with it, there's little to nothing he can do about it. City could complain about the fact that the player is indicating he would like to join Barca, which, in turn, indicates that third parties have let him know he's wanted there. A complaint is virtually worthless without real proof and, in any case, it is well known within the industry that 99% of transfers come about after agents have been doing all the sounding out in advance.

2. "That has been the case since he came to the club. He is a great guy."

It might have been intense speculation that Robinho is nothing but trouble but it is Hughes' job to curtail that as best he can. Hughes is a manager who protects and supports his players, in much the same committed and passionate way his old boss Sir Alex does at Old Trafford.

3. "We are not in the process of taking outstanding players out of the team. We want to complement the outstanding players at the club. We are looking to build, not dismantle.''

Now this is the most interesting. Whatever contingency plan Hughes might have to swap Robinho with some Barca players he fancies, none of that is possible until January. So why flag it up, and upset players in his present team, who might be thinking they could be replaced? Equally, why pre-empt anything that might or might not occur in January, as transfers can notoriously break down for a variety of reasons? So, while he has Robinho under contract, he will expect to be fielding a fully-committed player, whom Hughes will tell in no uncertain terms that City are paying his wages - and exorbitant wages at that - and he is expect to earn it when he is fully fit to play.

Robinho is sidelined for the League match against Wigan on Sunday but he could make his comeback in the Carling Cup match against Scunthorpe in a fortnight.

Hughes said Robinho is anxious to return and added: "The only frustration he has at the moment is that he is not fit and well. I hope that will be resolved in the next week to ten days, and he will be back on the pitch.''

Yes, you can just imagine how grateful Robinho will be for the chance to play against Scunthorpe in the Carling Cup when he is dreaming about the Nou Camp!

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