The sacking of Manchester City manager Mark Hughes is a sad reflection of how much Premier League football has become a cut-throat business as opposed to a sport over recent years.
Ever since Chelsea gatecrashed their way into the footballing elite on the back of Roman Abramovich’s millions, the once beautiful game has become all about who can win trophies at the swipe of a Coutts credit card rather earn success thanks to a well-considered, long-term strategy.
And while supporters of Manchester City have happily traded years of underachievement and relegation misery for their newfound unpopularity and the promise of success provided by their oil-rich Arab owners, they will have to get used to the club’s new way of conducting business. Now there is no time for sentimentality or the best-laid plans. Success must be instant. If not heads will roll.
The removal of Hughes and his backroom staff in yesterday’s night of the long knives is the sort of tasteless public blood-letting we have seen from Chelsea in the past. It came barely a month after the Welshman had been given the full support of the club’s owners and with his successor Roberto Mancini looking on from the stands. Hughes’ target at the start of the season was a sixth-place finish – and he was fired with the club in sixth place.
But many supporters will have little sympathy for Hughes, who during the worst recession since 1946 spent over £200m in 18 months on players. And after a promising start to the season his signings had mustered 10 matches without a win. Saturday’s 4-3 defeat of Sunderland came too late to save him.
But while the Manchester City soap opera is a sad indictment of football, it has been a shot in the arm from a betting perspective. Firstly, they have contributed to making this the most open Premier League title race in living memory. By taking points of the big guns like Arsenal and Chelsea, City have helped the teams around them keep in touch with the top so that for the first time since 2005 there could well be a team other than the Big Four earning a Champions League place. Aston Villa, Tottenham and City are all still in the running.
Secondly, City have breathed new life into the managerial betting market – which traditionally re-animates itself around this time of year as club chairman get trigger happy in the build-up to Christmas. Only five days ago the managerial sack race market didn’t even have Hughes listed in the five most likey candidates to get the chop – and now Mancini is already a 33/1 shot to be the next Premier League boss to collect his P45. If City keep up their habit of drawing games – keep a watchful eye on that price.
Most eyes, though, will be on Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez who is now as short as 4/1 – from 10s on Friday – with Skybet to end his Anfield experience before any of his peers are given their marching orders. After losing to bottom club Portsmouth at the weekend the 7/1 still on offer with William Hill about is worth thinking about. The Spaniard is also 9/1 to be out of work by New Year’s Eve. Fact! Check out the odds.