This was my first Mark Hughes memory, and to my nine year old mind it was just about the best goal imaginable. A bouncing ball, several feet off the ground, suddenly thrashed into the top corner from Hughes’ wonderfully judged volley. For him it was probably just one of those moments, see the ball, kick the ball, but it registered in my mind and I always rated him after that.
Only later in his career did I understand what a complete centre-forward he was. It’s hard to think of an obvious comparison, but Alan Shearer’s physicality springs to mind (Hughes didn’t get Shearer’s goals, of course, but scored more than you’d think when at his peak). One of those players defenders hated to play against.
As a manager he’s done pretty well. He was a surprising success with Wales, and that got him the Blackburn job where he went on to win 44% of his games, which is around that level of competence that suggests he knows what he’s doing. In many ways he was the wrong man at the wrong time at City, and while he was unfortunate to lose his job after not doing much wrong, it seems to me that Mancini was an upgrade and that Hughes, ultimately, probably shouldn’t have been surprised at how things ended.
What can we expect, then? Craig Bellamy for one thing, although quite how Hughes would fit him into the squad is hard to know. This is the rub, in a way. Sven would have been the continuity choice, but Hughes… we have no idea how he rates our players, do we? I think he’ll appreciate the squad’s character, like the hard workers he finds here, but will he know how to get the best out of our journeymen players?
The other knock on Hughes is this:
Those are the Premier League’s disciplinary tables during Hughes’ time at Blackburn. I mean, fine, no problem with toughening us up, but that’s essentially the polar opposite of where we are now, isn’t it? I get that he took an average group and made them hard to beat, used wingers, attacked, and so on, but the above, coupled with his frankly miserable, excuse filled post match interviews, well, that’s change isn’t it?
Which is fine. The fact that I’m even having doubts about a manager of Hughes’ apparent level says everything for the lofty position the club has found itself in, but I must admit that this isn’t an appointment I like. No matter. It’s another new dawn, and for one thing Hughes isn’t the sort of manager who seems likely to preside over a meltdown, which might have been the case with some of the more leftfield options we’ve seen. No, I can envisage a couple of decent seasons now, morphing towards a Sunderland type side I guess, picking up enough points, maybe doing alright in the cups, and, for the most part, keeping on keeping on. And that’s all we can ask for. As Roy would often say, Fulham’s first job is always to stay in the Premier League, and while everyone’s making the right noises about progress, for me the bottom line is (to repeat myself) that Hughes should be more than savvy enough to ensure that we stay up.
And if we can sometimes win away that will be brilliant.