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Garry Cook goes on the defensive

Garry Cook has strongly defended Manchester City's conduct in sacking Mark Hughes and claimed that the circumstances surrounding the appointment of Roberto Mancini have been unfairly represented in the media. However, the chief executive has also told ESPN Soccernet that City were exploring possible managerial alternatives to Hughes as early as last summer.

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Cook has been criticised for his performance when presenting Mancini in Monday's press conference after he stated that contact had first been made with the former Inter Milan coach following a defeat to Tottenham on December 16. Mancini then revealed he had spoken with chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak a fortnight ago in a meeting that Cook claims was merely a "general discussion".

City's conduct in removing Hughes has been roundly scrutinised by the national press but Cook is adamant that those involved in negotiations had the club's best interests at heart when sounding out Mancini in advance of informing the Welshman his services were no longer required following a 4-3 win over Sunderland at the weekend.

Indeed, Cook has revealed that possible alternatives to Hughes have been considered for some time as City were keen to have a contingency plan to support their lofty ambitions should a change in staff be required.

Cook told ESPN Soccernet: "It is important for the fans to appreciate the ambitions of this club and its owners. Before the season started we went about our business plan for the year meticulously. We did our scenario planning, mapping out the season, the results we were seeking and in those plans we looked at the options open to us if we were in a position when we needed to look for a new manager before Christmas.

"Even at that point we looked at the managers who could be available in a World Cup year, and those who might definitely be available.

"We had no intention of replacing Mark Hughes, but surely as a business we are entitled to examine all the options. We wanted a top-six finish within three years, but we accelerated those targets after such an enormous investment in new players. We were seeking 70 points for the season, and I think it was a touch circumspect of Mark to leave us saying he was on target for sixth place and 70 points. No club since 1995 had finished below fourth place with 70 points.

"We now have a new manager in Roberto Mancini and our ambitions are clear - we want to achieve Champions League football as quickly as we can."

But it is the contentious means by which Cook and his executive board recruited Mancini that have attracted such adverse publicity, which the chief executive feels has bordered on the hysterical.

The dynamics of the football industry are such that clubs invariably sound out managers well in advance. For example, the Liverpool owners contacted Jurgen Klinsmann in 2007 but tried to impress upon their supporters that did not necessarily mean they had made up their minds to replace Rafa Benitez.

Chelsea had tied up a deal with Jose Mourinho two days before Claudio Ranieri led Chelsea into a Champions league semi-final against Monaco and the list of similar cases is endless. In fact, Sven-Goran Eriksson knew he would be leaving City himself before his final game in the 2007-08 season.

Cook said: "I seem to recall Sven was still our manager but he knew he was being replaced before the last game of the season. Sven went into the dressing room and told the players he would not be their coach after the game and to go out and enjoy themselves. They lost 8-I to Middlesbrough. But wasn't that identical circumstances to the way we went about executing our decision to appoint a new manager?"

City had taken soundings about Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Jurgen Klinsmann. It did not take long through third parties to discover that Wenger doesn't break contracts and is totally committed to Arsenal and that Mourinho would want a fortune and to spend even greater amounts than have already been invested. Hiddink was sounded out as early as Russia's World Cup play-off defeat to Slovenia in November but he wanted a break and would only think about it in the New Year.

Any club with such ambitions and enormous funds would be inclined to do the same but a decision had not necessarily been taken to sack Hughes and Cook is angry at how the club's actions have been depicted in the national media.

"What is really disappointing, and has made this club very angry, is the misinterpretation of our statement," Cook said. "We are so incensed by the misinterpretation that we plan to re-issue the statement again.

"Our main concern is the impact it has on our fans. The key message is that we do not have to apologise for our actions, we have nothing to apologise for, but we want to inform our fans of the facts, of the actions taken that affects those people, the fans, who have given their hearts and soul to their club.

"We feel that the club is being judged by a group of people in the media who do not have the club at heart or care about the club, or take the time to appreciate what this club is all about. The misinterpretation is that we said that the decision to sack Mark Hughes was taken after the Spurs game [on December 16]. It was in fact taken on the Thursday after that game. Roberto said he had a meeting on December 7 in London, but that was a general discussion and as we have said the decision to sack Mark Hughes was taken after the Spurs game.

"Roberto has been caught up in a language issue; in truth he has been shafted. From our point of view it is important that the fans know the facts and the way we have acted in the best interests of the club. We are livid that the media has taken a little information and misinterpreted it and that Roberto has been caught up in the crossfire.

"We feel that we have been falsely represented and in the interests of the club we are prepared to do something about it, and we are in the process of looking into it."


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