By Jonathan Birchall
Alan Hansen has previous when it comes to underestimating newcomers to the Premier League title race.
"You can't win anything with kids," said the Scot in 1995 after Manchester United lost on the opening day of the campaign to Aston Villa as they looked to reclaim their crown from Blackburn, the previous season's champions.
That team would become one of English football's greatest. Those kids, the likes of Scholes, Beckham and Neville, would even win the title that very same season. And the FA Cup. And the league the year after that.
Yet nearly a decade later, in the same Match of the Day studio, the former Liverpool defender proved once again that Nostradamus he is not, predicting that Roberto Mancini probably wouldn't do a better job than Mark Hughes at Manchester City after the Welshman was sacked two hours after a 4-3 win over Sunderland in 2009.
Mark Lawrenson, Hansen's fellow pundit, scoffed at the Italian's appointment, calling it a gamble. Then-Sunderland boss Steve Bruce said that the decision was "ridiculous". Gary Lineker expressed his surprise that City had appointed a man with "not that much experience".
|MANC FOR THE JOB
| HUGHES' RECORD AT MAN CITY
|MANCINI'S RECORD AT MAN CITY|
Hughes' was a sacking which to this day draws spite and criticism from the footballing community. Earlier this week Sir Alex Ferguson described it as "unethical" - a further motivational boost to his former United charge and his players alongside the relegation trapdoor over which they precariously stand.
It would be of little surprise if the Welshman had personal revenge on his mind ahead of his return to the Etihad Stadium. Hughes is a manager that sees himself in the big-time.
"He really wants to be right up there, competing for titles and the Champions League positions," said Kia Joorabchian, the 48-year-old's adviser and frequent enemy of Mancini over all things Carlos Tevez, to The Guardian. For all the visions of grandeur, however, Hughes clearly wasn't the man, in chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak's words, to "take the club to the next level".
Mancini irrefutably has.
In the 2010 documentary 'Blue Moon Rising', the Italian is shown at the Manchester Academy of English weeks after his appointment, debating when to use the words 'mentality' and 'attitude' - two concepts that have been completely transformed at the club under his reign.
Last season's FA Cup win paid testament to that, as City beat United in the semi-final at Wembley, making people question talk of an inferiority complex in the blue half of Manchester. The 6-1 victory at Old Trafford earlier this season destroyed any semblance of it. After all, Hughes presided over three derbies and lost them all.
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Hughes' win percentage in Manchester was 46.75 per cent, Mancini's is 60, the highest since Sam Cowan, who managed only 30 games between November 1946 and May 1947. Only one other manager at the club has won half of his fixtures.
Against other teams in what is now the 'Big Six', Hughes was only able to secure victory over Arsenal during his time at Eastlands, while never taking a point against Chelsea, Tottenham and of course, Manchester United. The man who replaced him has beaten them all this season alone.
|"However mismanaged, unprofessional and 'unethical' Hughes' departure may have been, there is little to suggest that City's owners made a mistake in December 2009"|
Away from the pitch Mancini is still learning. His failure to control the seemingly unmanageable Carlos Tevez could have, in another season, cost him the title and has often proved an interesting parallel to Hughes' issues with Brazilian forward Robinho in 2009.
Where the Welshman looked to exonerate the former Real Madrid star and then record signing, Mancini washed his hands of Tevez, leaving him to waste months in Buenos Aires, practising his golf swing. Neither tactic worked.
In Abu Dhabi though, brass tacks are what matter. When former club CEO Garry Cook explained the club's decision to relieve Hughes of his duties and give them to Mancini, he spoke of 'trajectories', 'targets' and 'requirements'. Mancini, currently with 36 points more than Hughes achieved in his only full season at the Etihad, is meeting them.
However mismanaged, unprofessional and "unethical" Hughes' departure may have been, there is little to suggest that Manchester City's owners made a mistake in December 2009. A title win on Sunday would end the argument for good - the pundits called this one wrong.
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