A short-term appointment for a long-term project

Rome was not built in a day. as we are often told; quite how many it was actually built in is beside the point – longer-term planning almost always bears fruit eventually, whether it is football or to suit this hugely convoluted segue, city building. This conveniently brings me to the somewhat surprising appointment made by QPR of former Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham boss Mark Hughes this week, a move so startlingly short-sighted it cannot help but be to the detriment of the club further down the line.

Neil Warnock was rather harshly ushered out the back door just before he was given the chance to spend any of the January funds promised to him by Chairman Tony Fernandes. Warnock,  is a Championship manager through and through. The Premier League’s level has always seemed a bit beyond him. However, at QPR, he has certainly been given a bum deal. Despite the club’s poor recent form, few would doubt that with significant reinforcements in January, he could at least guarantee them something approaching mid-table obscurity.  Alas, that was not to be the case.

Fernandes has entrusted QPR’s Premier League future in the hands of Mark Hughes – a manager very much of a Premier League standard, but quite crucially, and I cannot emphasise this point enough, not as good as he thinks he is.

The feeling persists that Hughes still feels that he was dealt a raw deal, quite ironically given the nature of Warnock’s departure, after falling short of the infamous ‘trajectory of results’ laid out to him by former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook – this led to Hughes’s sacking and the hiring of Roberto Mancini; a manager with the profile that the club had wanted all along.

The truth of the matter is, that despite proving himself at Blackburn to be a manager of genuine pedigree and quality, with an eye for a bargain, at Manchester City he proved anything but, needlessly wasting millions on average players with no long-term thought behind them or the style of football that they would go on to play. A strong sense of injustice still dominates a man that clearly wasn’t ready to take a club with the potential that City undoubtedly had, to the next level.

He left Fulham last season after a decidedly steady campaign, with Hughes departing leaving the club in 8th position in the league and with an entrance into the Europa League for a second successive season via the Fair Play league table.

Upon leaving Fulham, Hughes told reporters: “As a young, ambitious manager I wish to move on to further my experiences. I believe my management team and I have done a good job and the club has a strong foundation from which they can go forward.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify that neither myself nor my representative have approached or have been approached by another club. This decision to leave Fulham has not been influenced by any outside party.”

This was of course in reference to Hughes being touted for a job with Aston Villa, although one suspects that he was keeping an equally keen eye on the available Chelsea job prior to Andre Villas-Boas’ appointment.

After glimpsing a taste of the higher echelons, Hughes obviously feels that he belongs there and that his managerial ability merits a place at the top table. I have my reservations. A move to Aston Villa never materialised and what appeared as a bold gesture designed to make him seem more employable, inevitably turned sour and resulted in a spell doing the rounds of Monday night football, peering in from the sidelines.

QPR, at best, represents a sideways move for Hughes from his last job at Fulham. The reasons behind his departure from Craven Cottage were supposedly down to a lack of funds promised by Mohammed Al-Fayed. As a result, Hughes is developing a reputation for being a nomadic manager.

Which is what makes the fact that he’s been given a two and a half-year deal by QPR seem all the more baffling. There are currently just seven managers operating in the top flight that have managed for two and a half years or more – Ferguson, Wenger, Pulis, McCarthy, Lambert, Martinez and Redknapp – at their respective clubs. Indeed, there are only 22 managers in the entire Football League that have stayed at their clubs for the same amount of time.

Does anyone genuinely believe that Hughes will be at the club in two and a half years’ time? Also, while we’re on the subject, why do Chairman still persist in going for such long contracts when manager’s rarely ever see them through?

Part of the reason is to protect their own investment; should Hughes do a runner and take a bigger job, a prospect which in my eyes is an absolute certainty, they will at least have the small crumb of comfort that they’ll get due compensation, but beyond that, it smacks of short-termism.

Don’t get me wrong, Hughes is a fine manager, and his appointment is certainly a trade up in terms of ability and stature on the seemingly hard-done by Warnock, but will he be there in a year’s time to see through any project he proposes to build? I wouldn’t rush to the bookies anytime soon to bet that he would be if I were you.

All you are left with, should Hughes depart before seeing out his deal, is a squad moulded half in Warnock’s image and half in Hughes’s – a smorgasbord of styles and philosophies. In short, a recipe for a disaster, and an expensive disaster at that.

I championed Andre Villas-Boas’s appointment in the summer for Chelsea over Guus Hiddink’s, the some-time favourite for the post, simply because Chelsea were a club in the midst of an identity crisis and appointing a manager of Hiddink’s ilk and age would have been nothing more than a stop-gap solution and a delaying of the inevitable. The equivalent to putting a plaster on a broken leg – the Hughes appointment is very similar in that regard.

The one word that you’ll constantly hear out of Hughes’s mouth is ‘ambition’. Of course, ambition is not a bad thing in itself; if used right, ambition can be a positive thing; it’s good to strive for excellence. However, when allied to a sense of injustice and a strong and to an extent unfounded belief in your own abilities that Hughes certainly has; a manager with ideas way above his station – all you get is a marriage destined for divorce.

The thinking behind the appointment is clear – Hughes’s profile will help attract a better calibre of player in the January transfer window with the significant funds Fernandes has to offer, and they will be significant, otherwise Hughes would never have signed on. But, and this is a big but, you have to question the wisdom of such a short-term project. Fernandes looks to be fairly genuine in his aspirations for the club, and the idea of bringing in a manager of Hughes’s stature is certainly a sound one, but whether Hughes is the right man for the job long-term, is in some doubt.

Warnock may not have been the long-term future of the club either, but he certainly could have sufficed until the end of the season. Hughes is a good manager, I fancy him to consolidate QPR around mid-table this season with ease, but that isn’t the problem, it’s what comes after he does a reasonable job that worries me and should worry QPR fans.

You can follow me on Twitter @James McManus1

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