Mark Hughes has revealed that he came “close” to walking away from Manchester City in the summer of 2008, frustrated by the lack of money, “confusion” and turmoil at the tail end of the club’s ownership by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister.
Recruited to manage City after four seasons at Blackburn Rovers, Hughes said he made the move because he believed City were in a good financial position under Thaksin and that money would be available to sign players.
“The reality wasn’t exactly what was described and sold to me,” he said. “In fairness, we were able to go into the transfer market, but there seemed a focus that players had to be sold, and I realised that maybe the resources weren’t in place that I thought.”
As Hughes prepares his team for the season’s first Manchester derby tomorrow, the club have granted the Guardian unprecedented access to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the takeover that made City the richest football club on earth. Sir Alex Ferguson has described City as “cocky” this week, but Hughes revealed his feelings were anything but when he first arrived there last year.
He described the facilities at City’s Carrington training ground as “rundown” and “not fit for purpose”. There was, he said, “confusion and miscommunication” about players who might be sold, with Stephen Ireland told he would be leaving when Hughes had not approved any decision to sell him.
Thaksin already had $2bn of assets frozen and faced corruption charges in Thailand when he took over City in 2007, and on 10 August 2008, he and his wife, Potjaman, skipped bail after Potjaman was convicted of fraud in Bangkok and sentenced to three years in prison.
Hughes said that at the time he tried to concentrate solely on managing the football club, hoping his job would not be affected by Thaksin’s problems.
“Probably naively, I thought you could separate the two, but obviously you can’t. If you are single-minded, you have to work purposefully,” he said, “and if you get to a point where it is untenable and not manageable, then you make the decision to walk away. I never got to that point – but I was close.”
Garry Cook, City’s chief executive, who was seen as an apologist for Thaksin after describing him in an interview as “a great guy to play golf with,” said he now feels “dreadful” about having made that comment. Cook joined City from Nike in the US, where he had become president of the Jordan brand, but he, too, soon found there was no money.
“I have made some mistakes in my life,” Cook said, “but I deeply regretted my failure to do proper research on Thaksin.”