City prepare to trim squad
Mark Hughes is preparing to part with at least a dozen members of last season's Manchester City squad. Hughes knows he is facing the acid test of his management skills next term following the decision of City's Abu Dhabi-based backers to release substantial transfer funds.
Already Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz and Stuart Taylor have arrived at Eastlands for a combined cost of £30million. Given City are also favourites to sign Carlos Tevez and have been heavily linked with Everton defender Joleon Lescott, as well as Barcelona front-man Samuel Eto'o, it is clear the Blues' spending is not complete yet.
Hughes, having also brought the likes of Craig Bellamy, Shay Given and Wayne Bridge to the club during January, knows he must shed some players as well, if not for financial reasons then purely to maintain a manageable squad. The City manager has always insisted he would not sell until he had bought the men he wanted.
However, with the number of players whose contracts have run out and will not be renewed, it could bring into double figures the number of old favourites who might not return for the new season. Chief among them is popular Bulgarian Valeri Bojinov, who has endured two seasons ruined by injury since being signed by Sven-Goran Eriksson and is attracting interest from Wolfsburg.
City needed a bit of extra time to bring in Benjani from Portsmouth 18 months ago, but the Zimbabwe talent is now surplus to requirements, along with Darius Vassell, Ched Evans and Jo, who could be used as bait to get Lescott from Everton. With Daniel Sturridge already quitting for Chelsea, that is six strikers heading for the exit door, with another, Felipe Caicedo, likely to spend next season on loan to further his education.
Dietmar Hamann is another out of contract, while Gelson Fernandes and injury-plagued Michael Johnson are not thought to be part of Hughes' long-term plans either. In defence, Danny Mills has already left, and Michael Ball, Tal Ben Haim and Javier Garrido would all be allowed to leave if the right offers came in.
If that was not enough, captain Richard Dunne is thought to be on Sunderland's hit-list, while Elano's tempestuous relationship with Hughes might be tested if a significant bid was received for a player who cost £8million from Shakhtar Donetsk two years ago.
The sheer scale of potential departures just emphasises the staggering change City have undergone in the past 12 months and proves Hughes was right to plead for more time when critics were starting to get on his back, particularly after the FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest.
However, when he returns from a family holiday this weekend and begins preparations for a pre-season campaign, which starts with a three-match tour of South Africa next month before a visit to Barnsley on 1 August and then two more games ahead of the opening game at former club Blackburn Rovers, Hughes realises expectations and, more crucially, demands, will have risen dramatically.