|Ambitious Hughes takes intriguing career move to QPR|
Wed 11th Jan 2012 00:03 by Clive Whittingham
Having walked out on Fulham in the summer citing lack of ambition Mark Hughes today took the bizarre step of joining a very similar club two miles up the road. LoftforWords scratches its head and wonders why?
Mark Hughes the player and Mark Hughes the manager are different beings.
Mark Hughes the player was loathed at Loftus Road. A Manchester United stalwart and Chelsea supporter was never going to curry favour in W12 but his running battles with Alan McDonald over the best part of 20 years angered supporters further and when Paul Parker found himself sent off for retaliating to a horrific Hughes tackle that could easily have snapped his leg in half the mood soured still further. He finished his career at Chelsea as well – all elbows and attitude.
Hughes joined United from school in 1980 and graduated into the first tea under Ron Atkinson three years later. He broke up the striking partnership of Frank Sapleton and Norman Whiteside and by 1985/86 he’d made it to 20 goals in a First Division season for the first time as United finished fourth.
With English clubs banned from Europe following the 1985 Heysel disaster Hughes joined the growing throngs of English footballers who looked to further their career abroad. Terry Venables had left QPR to take charge of Barcelona (imagine that in the present day) and he partnered Hughes with Everton’s Gary Linekar after buying him from United for £2m. Hughes though failed to adapt to Spanish football and spent time on loan at Bayern Munich before, in 1988, Alex Ferguson spent a then club record £1.8m to bring him back to Old Trafford. He started his first full season back in Britain with a 0-0 draw at home to QPR and finished it as the first ever Man Utd player to win the PFA Player of the Year award but the Reds finished eleventh in the league.
A season later he scored 15 goals as United lifted their first trophy for five years, beating Crystal Palace in an FA Cup final replay. That trophy started an avalanche of silverwear into Old Trafford that shows no sign of abating even today. Hughes won two Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, a League Cup, three Charity Shields and a European Cup Winners Cup in his second spell at Old Trafford.
In 1995 - with the likes of Beckham, the Nevilles and Scholes breaking through – Alex Ferguson began to sell off his old guard with Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis all allowed to leave. Hughes went to Chelsea for £1.5m and won the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners Cup while at Stamford Bridge. Brief playing spells with Everton, Southampton and Blackburn followed as his career wound down.
By the time he retired Wrexham-born Hughes had won 76 Welsh international caps and scored 16 goals, and it was with Wales that he tasted management for the first time. He took over from Bobby Gould in 1999 and came as close as any Wwales manager in living memory to taking them to an international finals. In qualifying for Euro 2004 they beat Italy at the Millennium Stadium but were ultimately eliminated by Russia in the play offs. Hughes though had forged a reputation as a fine manager to employ if your resources are limited and he was quickly snapped up by one of his former clubs Blackburn.
Rovers had just two points from their first five games of the 2004/05 Premiership campaign when Graeme Souness was shown the door and Hughes appointed instead. He won his first match against Portsmouth but then won none of the next eight leaving Rovers rock bottom heading into the winter. They finished fifteenth, a fine achievement given the circumstances and still the only time Hughes has finished outside the top half of the Premiership as a manager. Thereafter they finished sixth and qualified for the UEFA Cup, beating Man Utd twice and Chelsea on the way. They reached three cup semi finals under Hughes’ guidance and secured further placings of tenth and seventh in the league. They did however finish bottom of the Fair Play League in all four seasons he had in charge and their physical approach was regularly criticised.
Not in doubt though was Hughes’ ability in the transfer market which for a manager who only previously had international experience was extraordinary. He bought Chris Samba (£400k), Benni McCarthy (£2m), David Bentley (£500k), Ryan Nelson (free) and Roque Santa Cruz (£3.5m) and turned them all into established, sought after Premiership players. Santa Cruz and Bentley made Rovers millions in profit when they left and Samba is likely to do the same this January, possibly even rejoining Hughes at QPR.
This was all enough for Man City to come calling in the summer of 2008 and although some QPR fans have pointed to a near £200m spend at Eastlands for a tenth and sixth place finish he again unearthed stars who currently form a key part of the City team likely to win the league under Roberto Mancini this season. Vincent Kompany, Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott were all Hughes signings. When he was replaced, in a particularly crass manner after a 4-3 home win against Sunderland, by Roberto Mancini the decision was criticised and Hughes left Eastlands a popular figure with City fans.
He pitched up next at Fulham in 2010, accepting the job despite clearly being second choice for it behind Martin Jol. Fulham had been Europa League finalists under Roy Hodgson who had subsequently left to join Liverpool and took time to warm to Hughes who made a poor start once again, not helped by injuries to his three main strikers in the first half of the season. Ultimately he left the Cottagers eighth and, contrary to his image at Blackburn, in Europe once more courtesy of the Fair Play League.
The relationship between Hughes and Fulham never seemed an easy one and at the end of the season he took advantage of a break clause in his contract and walked out saying he was a “young ambitious manager” who wanted to move on and further his experiences. Mohammed Al Fayed said he was a strange man and a flop, justifiably angered by Hughes’ arrogance that he was simply going to walk into the then vacant managerial positions at Aston Villa, or even Chelsea. In the end he got neither and has now signed for QPR instead, a club of similar size and stature to Fulham fighting relegation from the Premiership.
Hughes has penned a two and a half year deal and brought his favoured coaching staff Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kevin Hitchcock with us.
“It's a great feeling to be back in football and to be the manager of QPR. I'm fully aware of the challenge in the short and long term and I am genuinely excited about the ambition of the owners. Nobody can doubt the history of this great football club and the passion of its fantastically loyal supporters. Now the immediate priority is to consolidate our place in the Barclays Premier League, but beyond that, the future is very bright and fills me with great enthusiasm." -Mark Hughes
"Mark has a proven track record in the Premier League, bringing a wealth of experience at both club and international level. He has a great passion to achieve as a manager and has already been hugely successful in his career. His ambitions match those of the board and we are delighted to have him at the helm." -Tony Fernandes
"Mark has a great managerial pedigree and has proven over the years to be a very astute manager. I am looking forward to working with him to bring success to the Club." -Amit Bhatia
"Having spoken at length with Mark, I know he is brimming with enthusiasm and anticipation about the challenge of taking QPR forward and I believe he is the perfect choice to deliver the success we all desire." -Philip Beard
“When the new owners arrived, they told me my remit was to get to the new year with QPR outside the bottom three. We've not been in the bottom three all season. It is an understatement to say that I am very disappointed," he added. While I accept the owner's decision, I do feel, if there were more people at the club in positions of power with experience in the game, they would have understood how well we have done in the circumstances. And they would have realised that, once we brought in the players I had identified, there would have been no problem securing a Premier League future. But no doubt the chairman has had a string of agents in touch telling them their man could do a better job." -Neil Warnock
In the emotional aftermath of one of those dark weekends that only QPR seem to be able to conjure up I considered whether Neil Warnock had been a victim of his own success. When he arrived at QPR we were just happy to survive in the Championship, within 18 months he’d dragged us to ninth in the top flight. When the team then fell away slightly the expectations stayed there at ninth in the Premier League. Had we consolidated in the Championship last season and then pushed on to, say, sixth in the Championship at this point this season most would probably have been happy.
Instead QPR are currently seventeenth in the Premier League, the place they said was their aim at the start of the season. Purely on the basis of the league table Warnock was on target to accomplish his aim for the season when he was sacked. We asked him to save us from descent into League One and he did so. We asked him to win us promotion and he delivered in 12 months. Then we set him a target of keeping us in the Premiership and at the time of his sacking he was doing just that. It’s absolutely understandable why he would be so disappointed at the decision that’s been reached this week.
That said I do believe it is the right decision, and the appointment of somebody as good as Hughes has already vindicated it to a certain extent – although the proof of the pudding will come in May. Most of Fernandes’ ambitions and plans for QPR hinge on being a Premiership club and with the fixtures for the last ten games of QPR’s season falling the way they have we simply couldn’t hang around any longer to see if Neil Warnock could turn the form around. That’s ridiculously harsh given what he did for the club, but that’s modern football.
Excessive expectations have become rather a theme of the last few days among the QPR supporters. People have, apparently with a straight face, mentioned people like Guus Hiddink and Frank Rijkaard as potential successors to Warnock at Loftus Road. I pointed out on the message board that I’m more likely to end up the next manager at Loftus Road than some of the names that have been mentioned and was told that I was underestimating Tony Fernandes and his desire to turn QPR into a global brand. Fans then queued up to slate Mark Hughes and say they didn’t want him as manager.
Reality check. QPR are in their first Premiership season for 15 years and as things stand it’s really hanging in the balance whether or not it will last longer than a single season. They are playing in an outdated ground that contains only 18,000 seats and, for one reason or another, they’re rarely selling all of those despite the return to the top flight. They cannot expand the ground and they’re based in a city where the land value is higher than anywhere in Europe and sites for a potential new stadium can be counted on the fingers of one hand. QPR are surrounded by bigger, richer Premiership clubs with vast budgets, Champions League football and youth academies. They, meanwhile, train on a rented college playing field next to Heathrow Airport, with a youth team that plays against the likes of Barnet and Colchester and, predictably, produces absolutely nothing for the first team. Any rare prospects that do graduate from it are picked off by Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea. This is not a football club that screams potential.
Tony Fernandes has indeed spoken about wanting to make it a global brand. I want Kelly Brook to climb into the shower with me tomorrow morning and remark on what a big boy I am. It’s easy to want things. It’s easy to say things too. I could say I want to turn my flat into a global brand, it doesn’t mean Bill Gates is going to want to come and live here to turn my wireless router off and on again when the connection goes down. Guus Hiddink? Come on, we’ve all had a drink.
So having said all of that, it seems rather strange that Mark Hughes should take the job. In my opinion, in a sparse managerial market, he’s the best option who was both available and realistic for QPR. Hughes did a very decent job with clubs of a similar size to us in Blackburn and Fulham and at all three clubs he’s managed has displayed a tremendous knowledge of the European transfer market to not only pick up Chris Samba, Roque Santa Cruz, Benni McCarthy and others at bargain basement prices but to then get the very best out of them where other managers failed before him, and have failed with them since.
But hang on, isn’t it only about seven months since Hughes walked out on Fulham because their ambition didn’t match his own? I struggle to think of a more similar club to us in the Premiership than Fulham and even they’re in the position of being established at this league for a decade and recently reaching a European final. Walking out on Fulham because they lack ambition to then join QPR seems perverse.
Hughes seemed to call it a day at Fulham because he expected to be offered the job at Aston Villa. Randy Lerner then seemed to get cold feet because he didn’t like the way Hughes went about leaving Craven Cottage, or because he wanted Roberto Martinez more. In the end he got Alex McLeish which is like heading out for a takeaway only to find your usual place closed and eating a dead dog you found round the back by the bins instead.
Villa should have gone for Hughes, and would be doing better than they are now had they done so. Perhaps the turn of events has chastened Hughes. Or perhaps, more likely, he’s realised that to get the big club job he so desires he’s now going to have to prove himself lower down the food chain for a third time rather than risk staying out of work for too long and turn into an irrelevant Alan Curbishley type.
In some ways it’s lose lose in the medium term for QPR – he either fails and leaves, or succeeds and leaves. Either way he’s not going to be here for long, and what QPR could do with now is long term planning and building.
Short term though I think he’s absolutely ideal. His slow starts at Blackburn and Fulham are a concern, and his remark to the team when he met them today of “you’ll have to embrace what we do, and quickly,” hints that it’s playing on his mind as well. But with the circumstances of his departure at Fulham well documented I cannot imagine he would have come near QPR without a guarantee of some serious money being made available for him to spend in the transfer market this January. In the short term I expect the usual new manager syndrome upturn in results to be combined with some impressive names coming in through the door. I believe he’ll keep us up this season without too much difficulty.
Long term though I wonder how much all this is costing. Sacking Warnock, appointing Hughes, paying the current squad, buying new players, paying them – none of this is coming cheap, and I keep harking back to those 18,000 seats in the stadium. QPR must currently be losing money hand over fist. I hope Tony Fernandes has deep pockets.
Pictures – Action Images