The official statement from the club which confirmed Saturday's worst kept secret:
“Prior to the current season beginning, with significant investment in players and infrastructure in place, the consensus between the Board and coaching staff was that appropriate agreed targets should be set for the 2009/2010 season.
“The targets were agreed as a result of the player acquisition strategy of the club being radically accelerated in the summer as a result of very favourable conditions for any buying club. It was also based on the fact that the infrastructure of the club had been overhauled completely at great cost in order to create the best possible environment for the team.
“A return of two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set. Sheikh Mansour and the Board felt that there was no evidence that the situation would fundamentally change. This is a particularly difficult announcement given the personal investment over the past 15 months on all sides and we would like to put on record our respect for and thanks to Mark Hughes and we wish him the best in his future career.”
Whatever your opinion of Mark Hughes and whether he was the right man for the job - and I would put myself firmly in the pro-Hughes camp - it cannot be argued that there was no justification for his sacking given the frustrations of the past couple of months. It is a huge surprise though given that Hughes was backed when steering the club through the growing pains of last season and then handed such sums in the summer.
However, the two key issues central to this are the timing and manner of the decision to sack him. As Jack over at TLDORC pointed out, the decision was not made in order to secure the services of Mourinho or Hiddinck - Mancini has been out of work for sometime and no clubs seemingly on the horizon for him.
Much has been made of the target of sixth place that Hughes was set at the outset of the season (something Hughes was at pains to state he was on course to achieve), but this was when a Champions League position was thought too much of a leap for 2009/10. Given Liverpool's poor start to the season, this is no longer the case. There is a very real opportunity for the club to achieve fourth position this season, and whilst the victory over Sunderland puts us back in touch with the top four, my thoughts are that the club are going all-out to achieve Champions League qualification this season - and this for me is why the decision has been made to sack Hughes.
What they have likely assessed is that although the season so far has been satisfactory, it hasn't been good enough given the chance to take fourth place. Far too many opportunities have been missed over the eleven games that the club statement references, opportunities that could cost us fourth spot. They clearly felt that Mancini is someone who can come in and achieve this.
Whilst I don't agree with the decision - and it goes against the owners previous rhetoric of long term planning being a decision with the short term very much in mind - it has been made and I can see why it has been made.
What many have found distasteful though is the way in which the club went about it. Mancini has obviously been lined up prior to the sacking (with some reports suggesting as early as the beginning of December), and whilst that is not uncommon in football when changing managers, the fact that the club have been accused of leaking the news to the press on the morning of the Sunderland game does not sit well and reflects badly. This then led to the situation where the speculation snowballed throughout the day.
Regardless of the merits of sacking him, he deserved better than the ending he received.