Hours before Stoke City announced Mark Hughes’ appointment, a disgruntled fan made his feelings clear by parading a sign reading “Hughes Out” outside the Britannia Stadium. As far as welcome receptions go, this was about as warm as the waters of the Arctic Sea.
The lone demonstrator might have taken it too far and every manager should be allowed a fair crack of the whip but Mark Hughes is hardly the sort of manager Stoke City fans – or indeed fans of any other club – would get excited about.
Stoke fans’ fears are well justified give that the Welshman’s managerial journey resembles Tom Cruise’s acting career, as both started brilliantly and have since become increasingly boring and poor over the years.
If Hughes’ stint at Blackburn Rovers was Cruise’s Top Gun, Rain Man or Born on the Fourth of July, his days at the Etihad were his very own Mission Impossible, his surprisingly short spell in charge at Fulham had all the traits of a Last Samuray, while the error-ridden at QPR undoubtedly plunged his and the club’s fortunes Oblivion.
Stoke’s board members had apparently grown bored of Tony Pulis’ tactics – or rather lack of – a feeling shared by an increasing number of fans at the Britannia, who felt the club had stagnated under Pulis, after reaching the FA Cup final in 2011.
Pulis’ rough approach and his reluctancy to trust players slightly more technically gifted than Andy Wilkinson or Jonathan Walters had run their course, as chairman Peter Coates expressed his desire to see a more flowing brand of football at the Britannia.
Which makes Hughes’ appointment even more baffling for, during his largely successful spell at Blackburn, the Welshman and his team were often criticised for an over-physical and even dirty approach, which had the Rovers rooted to the bottom of the Premier League disciplinary table in all four of Hughes’ seasons in charge.
Hughes’ very own brand of sexy football saw him drawing 13 games out 15 with City and Fulham (his last seven games for City and his first eight in charge of the West Londoners), while QPR fans would have a rather voluminous folder on the topic.
Hughes was adamant his career should not be judge simply on his failure at Loftus Road: “There’s always that worry when you lose a position but I’ve always had faith in my ability to manage at this level.
“I’ve had 270 to 280 games at this level, so I know what it’s about. Obviously the last 12 games at the beginning of last season didn’t help.
“That’s the recent thing in people’s minds and at the moment it seems people want to judge me on that period,” said the Welshman during his first press conference as Stoke City manager.
Sparky has a point, but his tenure at QPR was so riddled with mistakes that it’s almost impossible to look past it. Hughes’ teams might have been dour but he had, at least, shown an eye for a bargain in the transfer window.
At Blackburn he signed Christopher Samba, Benny McCarthy, David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz for a combined fee of £6.5m, just over half of the amount Harry Redknapp paid for Christopher Samba in January, while he was also responsible for bringing Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Carlos Tevez to the Etihad (admittedly he also signed Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jo and Tal Ben Haim).
Last season’s debacle, though, will always be a huge blot on Hughes’ CV. Having spent over £20m on players, plus some on free agents with inflated wages, he oversaw the worst start to a Premier League season, failing to win a game in his first 12.
“There aren’t that many [managers] with as much experience as me, and you learn when you’re out of work as well as when you’re in work,” said Hughes.
Stoke fans will hope he has learnt his lessons.
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