x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Exit of Manchester City trio and end of Hughes' legacy will pave way forward

Manchester City can chart a better path with the exit of the last set of players from manager Hughes' legacy, says Richard Jolly.

Wayne Bridge did well as a loanee for Brighton last season but it was too little, too less for Manchester City to retain him. Phil Cole / Getty Images
Wayne Bridge did well as a loanee for Brighton last season but it was too little, too less for Manchester City to retain him. Phil Cole / Getty Images

It is the nature of football that arrivals draw more attention than departures. Clubs are forever trying to trade up and the promise of the new, especially when the signings come coated in glamour, can make the voyage into the unknown more exciting than reflections on the tried and tired.

Certainly, it is for Manchester City. The focus this summer has been on the recruitment of the manager Manuel Pellegrini, the midfielder Fernandinho and the winger Jesus Navas, plus their attempts to recruit Edinson Cavani and Isco.

Apart from Carlos Tevez, those leaving, in contrast, have been rather overlooked, partly because they have been exiting via the back door. Yet between them, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz and Wayne Bridge cost around £40 million (Dh224m) and earned about £300,000 a week.

Each was signed by the former manager Mark Hughes and leaves via free transfer. Toure and Bridge already have found new clubs (Liverpool and Reading, respectively), while Santa Cruz has been linked with Hamburg and Hughes's Stoke City, but this marks the final week of the City contracts each signed in 2009.

The centre-back Toure enjoyed the most success, even if he did not justify Hughes's decision to install him as captain immediately or to prefer Toure and Joleon Lescott, another of his buys, to Vincent Kompany in the centre of defence.

If his four years in Manchester are remembered most for the failed drug test, caused by a slimming pill with a banned ingredient, that brought a six-month ban in 2011, the former Arsenal defender went on to become a popular and reliable performer, albeit as a squad player, and a capable deputy when Kompany was injured last season.

Bridge and Santa Cruz, meanwhile, were out of sight and out of mind by then. Hughes's follies were paid too much to find new employers before their City contracts expired.

Instead, they lived a peripatetic existence as perpetual loanees. Bridge was borrowed four times, only once successfully.

He helped Brighton & Hove Albion reach the Championship play-offs last season and was voted a member of the division's team of the year.

It was a belated reminder of the consistency he displayed for Southampton at the start of his career, when he established a Premier League record for the most consecutive appearances. He was also, briefly, a teammate of Hughes.

The Welshman's version of "friends reunited" also incorporated Santa Cruz, who scored 20 goals in the sole season they worked together at Blackburn.

The Paraguayan struck twice in Hughes's final match as City's manager: the problem was that in four, injury-hit years, they formed exactly half of his tally for the club. Like Bridge, it was only in his final loan spell that he regained a semblance of his former form.

Santa Cruz scored the goal that sent Malaga into the Champions League quarter-finals.

If it prompted City to hire Malaga's manager, Pellegrini, it has not brought a reprieve for the scorer.

If he and Bridge, whose sole outstanding display for the club came in a February 2010 victory over Chelsea when he refused to shake John Terry's hand after his private life became public knowledge, represent the two worst buys in City's recent history, their inglorious careers at the Etihad Stadium can now be consigned to the past and deemed teething troubles on the forward march.

While no club has a perfect record in the transfer market, City can be confident that such signings were the consequence of a unique set of circumstances, when an influx of money and new ambition were mixed with a manager desperate to bring in loyalists.

And, they came without the checks and balances provided by other power brokers in the club likelier to recommend players with more pedigree or potential, on an upward trajectory or simply fitter.

And so, while Pellegrini's reign is beginning at City, other eras are ending.

Even if few have noticed.


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