Mark Hughes’ credentials as a manager were never really in question.
After an illustrious playing career at Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Old Trafford again, Chelsea, Southampton, Everton and Blackburn Rovers, plus 72 caps for Wales, he was clearly a man that had experience.
His first managerial post was as Wales manager in 1999 and he remained in that role until 2005. During his reign, there was a definite improvement in the national team’s fortunes, culminating in near qualification for the 2004 European Championships.
After leaving the Wales job, Hughes went to Blackburn Rovers and helped them steer clear of relegation, whilst guiding them to the FA Cup semi-final. The following year was a top six finish in the Premier League and European qualification. A number of quality names then signed on at Ewood Park (Roque Santa Cruz and David Bentley were just two) and Hughes kept the team up in the top ten – albeit bottom of the disciplinary charts.
After Sven-Goran Erikson’s dismissal at Manchester City in 2008, the Citizens’ owners only wanted one man, and that was Hughes. The foundation for today’s success probably started with ‘Sparkie’, as he was given money to buy players still associated with City today – Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta were amongst the early signings. Once the Abu Dhabi Group invested in the club, money was no object, but it didn’t prevent some the poorest away performances of the season and a 10th place finish. On the flip side, City were tremendous at home and also reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. Despite star names such as Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure signing, it didn’t resolve the two wins in eleven games in 2009 and in December, Hughes was sacked. Roberto Mancini stepped in.
Roy Hodgson left Fulham in 2010 and Hughes was appointed manager. However, less than a year later and Hughes had resigned. Following his departure, he said, “As a young, ambitious manager I wish to move on to further my experiences.” Fulham owner Mohamed Al-Fayed hit back at Hughes for questioning the club’s ambition; Al Fayed called Hughes a “strange man” and a “flop” and says he rescued him from becoming a forgotten man after being sacked by Manchester City. In September 2013, Hughes admitted he made a mistake in leaving Fulham when he did.
Across London and once again it just didn’t work out for the Welshman. In nine months, Hughes was sacked as QPR manager after compiling a number of high profile signings that just did not gel. Results were worse than poor – that season started with a 5-0 home defeat to Swansea City. 12 matches without victory signalled the end for Hughes and seven months later he was appointed as manager of Stoke City.
It was clear that after the disappointment of QPR, that Hughes had a point to prove and it appears that the Potters are benefiting from the wisdom he offers. His style of play is different to his predecessor, Tony Pulis, and with the amount of better players now adorning the red and white, it is clear that chairman Peter Coates is backing his man with the necessary funds. They are not a relegation-threatened team, but one that very much holds their own. Tough opponents in terms of skill and physically imposing, they didn’t have the best start to the season, but have gradually and quietly improved. Sadly, Stoke have hit something of a slump in recent matches, though. Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Everton made it four losses in six league games in 2016 after ending the old year with back-to-back victories over Manchester United and the Toffees. Chairman Coates is surely confident that Hughes will sort out Stoke’s slump sooner rather than later, and new record signing Giannelli Imbula brings cause for optimism. But, it will need to be a team effort this weekend against an unpredictable Bournemouth team as Stoke look to steer the ship back on course.
Indeed it could be said that Hughes’ way has made people sit up and take notice of how well the team play and the kind of job that has been done, because his name appears in the list of managers to potentially replace Louis van Gaal in many fans’ debates. A firm favourite, it’s somewhat inevitable that one day he will return to Old Trafford in the hot seat.
In the Mirror, Hughes said, “There’s a lot of speculation. That goes with the territory. It’s probably better to be talked up than talked down. I’ve had both, and I know which I prefer. It is what it is. It’s speculation. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Stoke were the ultimate long-ball bores under Pulis, but Hughes has turned the Britannia Stadium side into a slick passing unit, attracting talents such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic to the club.
Stoke is a perfect fit for Mark Hughes. He’s pressed his style of play into his players’ minds, he now has ‘his’ players and Stoke are an attractive top half of the table club. It’s bound to happen one day – a bigger club coming calling – especially now that Hughes has re-built his reputation and done it well.