From Buffon To Ribery: The Crazy Inside Story Of Sheikh Mansour's Man City Takeover - 9jaflaver

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From Buffon To Ribery: The Crazy Inside Story Of Sheikh Mansour’s Man City Takeover

Mark Bowen was Mark Hughes’ assistant when the club was changed forever, and he tells Goal about what was a remarkable time in Manchester

It was just six days before Christmas in 2009 when Mark Hughes was fired by Manchester City.

The Welsh manager had been hired 18 months earlier, charged with ending a wait for silverware that stretched back to 1976.

City were, at the time, the quintessential sleeping giant, having finished ninth in the Premier League the season before Hughes’ arrival. Their campaign had concluded with a humiliating 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough.

Hughes and his assistant Mark Bowen were plotting a long-term overhaul but their plans were obliterated overnight when Sheikh Mansour bought the club on September 1, 2008 and shook the footballing world to its core.

City suddenly went from searching for bargain buys to bidding for the best players in the world, immediately gazumping Chelsea by signing Real Madrid star Robinho for a British-record fee of £32.5 million ($44m) on the final day of the summer transfer window.

“We were playing golf and after every shot Mark’s phone was going,” Bowen tells Goal. “At one point, he turned to me and said: ‘At the moment, we’ve got five bids of £30m or £35m out there’.

“Robinho was one, Franck Ribery was one, [Dimitar] Berbatov was one, and I can’t remember the others.”

No player was off the market. Bowen reveals how he, Hughes and former City CEO Garry Cook took a private jet to Italy one afternoon to try to sign Juventus ace Gianluigi Buffon; at the time the best goalkeeper in the world.

“We arrived at the airport and went upstairs to the business lounge,” Bowen explains. “Buffon wasn’t there but we sat and talked for an hour to his two agents, with astronomical figures being thrown around. Then, we got straight back on the plane and flew back.”

City went on to add a wealth of stars to their squad over the course of the 2009 transfer windows, including Carlos Tevez, an iconic signing from neighbours Manchester United.

Bowen says that many of the players needed convincing that this was not just a short-term pet project. However, the coaches had no doubts about the seriousness of Mansour’s intentions, particularly after the rapid way in which the owner transformed the club’s Carrington training base.

“When we first arrived at City, it was nowhere near fit for purpose,” the former Tottenham and Norwich defender says. “The facilities were poor, it wasn’t an elite environment, and there was a bit of apathy around the place. We tried to shake the place up and raise standards.

“Sheikh Mansour asked us to take the team to Abu Dhabi for a four-day break. Before we left, we spoke to his people and said: ‘The gym’s not good enough, we need something done’.

“When we came back four days later, we had a brand-new, two-storey gym at the training ground, which blew everyone away.

“We were told that the moment we left, an army of people had come in and had worked 24/7 to create it. That’s when it hit us: they mean business. If you want something and it helps the team, it’s yours.”

Given City’s new-found, game-changing wealth, it is ironic that the two best signings of the Hughes era were made before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover – and might not have happened at all had the club not been short of cash.

City was still owned by former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra when Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta joined from Hamburg and Espanyol, respectively, because of the club’s need to sell Vedran Corluka to Tottenham for £8.5m ($11.5m).

“Straight after the opening game of the season (a 4-2 loss at Aston Villa on August 17, 2008), we were called to a sit-down meeting with Thaksin’s right-hand man and he said: ‘We’ve accepted an offer for Corluka’,” Bowen recalls. “Mark said: ‘What do you mean? We’re trying to build a squad here’.

“It was put to us that cashflow was short and Tottenham offered a lot of money up front and they were going to accept it. But, in fairness, Garry Cook said: ‘We can get some of it back for players. We can give you two players straight away – Zabaleta and Kompany’.

“Mark thought Vincent was a ball-playing centre-back but when we got him from Hamburg, he was playing centre-midfield. Vincent wanted to play midfield but it turned out for the best, as he went onto become maybe the best centre-half in the club’s history.

“The main thing, though, was that when we met Vincent and Pablo, their character and desire shone through.”

Unfortunately for Hughes and his backroom staff, they would not get to finish what they started at City.

After a run of seven Premier League matches without a win, the ex-Wales manager was axed on the night of a 4-3 victory over Sunderland, with Roberto Mancini having already been lined up to replace him.

“Mark, myself and [goalkeeping coach] Eddie Niedzwiecki said: ‘We’ve just got to stay here because we will win Premier League medals, we will win cups’,” says Bowen.

“When we lost the job, Mark had had meetings and asked about expectations. He was told we’ve got to get into Europe. He asked about a cup, and was told: ‘If you win one, it’s a massive feather in your cap’.

“The day we were sacked, we were in a European place and in the semi-finals of the League Cup. But Mark always felt that the new owners wanted their own man.”

It was a major blow for Hughes, who has not managed a club of the same stature since. It was particularly disappointing, given he had been a man in demand when he joined City, having done a great job at Blackburn Rovers.

“We’d been there for four years, had good success there and we were just starting to think: ‘Okay, what next?'” Bowens explains. “We didn’t want to outstay our welcome and we wondered if we’d taken them as far as we could.

“I was on the golf course one day when I got a phone call from a friend of mine asking would Mark fancy the City job? I said: ‘He’ll do it’ and he joked: ‘Don’t you want to ask Mark first?’ Mark got a call from a super-agent later and said yes.

“We were meeting Thaksin’s people in London and I got two phone calls from another super-agent saying: ‘Would Mark Hughes fancy the Chelsea job?’ Mark was on a shortlist and when we were driving down to London, this other agent was still trying to delay it.

“We were told there was a strong push from a lot of people for Mark to go to Chelsea but [owner Roman] Abramovich preferred a foreign coach.

“We pulled up outside the hotel and Mark said: ‘We’ve given our commitment to City. Chelsea are too late. We’re doing it’. We knew it was a strange situation but we thought we could take it forward and thought it was going to be a long-term project.

“Without a doubt it was a big club and that was the enticing thing. But within months, it was a short-term thing: the owners want success and they want it now.”

After leaving City, Hughes went on to manage Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke and Southampton, but has been without a job for the last two years.

The 57-year-old was touted as a potential replacement for Slaven Bilic at West Brom before Sam Allardyce took over, and Bowen says it is frustrating that his compatriot is not given the respect he deserves.

“It annoys me that Mark is branded in a group of managers,” he says. “Club jobs come up and I hear fans saying they don’t want Mark.

“But I say: ‘Do your homework and look at what he did with Blackburn, Fulham, Stoke’. He’s been a top manager for 17 years.”

Bowen, meanwhile, got his first shot at a top job last season when he guided Reading to mid-table in the Championship after a relegation battle the previous campaign.

While he would not rule out working alongside Hughes in the future, the opportunity has got him excited to take on the role again.

“I’m one of those that’s impatient to get straight back into the game,” he says. “I want to be a number one and thoroughly enjoyed my time at Reading and had a successful year.

“If I had a choice, that’s what I’d like to do, with the right club and the right project. I’m not just going to dive into the first thing that comes along.

“But if Mark was offered a job and got in touch, and it looked like a good proposition for me personally, then I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

source:- goal

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