On Tuesday morning there appeared in the papers three almost identical stories about a City clearout in January. The journalists? Ian Ladyman at the Mail, Daniel Taylor at the Guardian and Ian Herbert at the Independent. These three are by far the best journalists in the national press for City stories (and, for that matter, much better than the useless MEN).
Now if those three all get the same story in the same day, it's probably not by chance.
These are the players that Hughes is briefing will go: Ball, Garrido, Vassell, Onuoha, Hamann and the big story: Elano.
The first five aren't really a surprise (Castillo and Caicedo are also on their way out, not that you needed telling): neither of the left backs are good enough, neither the fitness nor the form of Onuoha, Vassell or Hamann is trustworthy any more.
But Elano? I know that the 4-3-3 we've moved to is bad for him. The central midfield role he's asked to play now is not really his thing. Yes, he has good games. But he gets by-passed, out-muscled and over-run almost every time we leave home. When he's not willing to put in tackles he's a passenger in this role. But even with all of that, selling him seems quite extreme. Maybe the Brazilian clique we were so eager to build up around Robinho actually needs to be destroyed: news that Jo went out clubbing with tonsilitis and then missed training, and has been fined, could point to a discipline problem.
One more interesting thing to emerge from these stories: Hughes' claim that of our summer signings, he only really chose SWP (it's in the Guardian piece). It's quite well established that Jo was a player Tord Grip and Sven recommended to Thaksin, who sacked Sven but pursued the move anyway. Robinho was reported to have been a choice of al-Fahim, which is quite plausible.
But Ben Haim, Kompany and Zabaleta? I really don't see how a non-football man, whether al-Fahim or Mubarak or whoever could have found these. In fact, Hughes has spoken of trying to get Zabaleta in the past, saying when we signed him: "I saw him a few times when he was at Espanyol and I wanted to nick him." Guillem Balague has written about Hughes and Bowen going to watch Zabaleta when he was at Espanyol.
"Mark Hughes has been monitoring the Argentine full back for some time: I was sat alongside Mark Hughes and Mark Bowen - when the City boss was at Blackburn - while the pair were scouting the player in an Espanyol match against Atletico Madrid at Montjuic."Now, it is possible that Hughes tried to sign Zabaleta when he was Blackburn manager, but then randomly had him imposed on him when he came to City. But it's unlikely. This bit of the stories sounds a lot like Hughes trying to distance himself from any responsibility for the current squad.