Fulham vent their fury after Hughes quits Cottage
Fulham reacted with shock last night at the decision of Mark Hughes to tender his resignation and believe the former Manchester City manager went back on a verbal commitment to lead the club into Europe next season.
There is also suspicion at Fulham over the timing of Hughes’ announcement, which arrived just a day after Gérard Houllier had left Aston Villa by mutual consent.
Hughes, however, had grown frustrated at delays over his new contract, especially after indicating to Fulham some time ago that he was willing to agree one. Sources close to him are also adamant that he did not agree a new deal.
Fulham have now been told by Villa that they do not want Hughes and, according to sources at the Midlands club, they are considering other options that include Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benítez.
Hughes issued a statement last night in which he stressed that there had been no contact with another club and that his decision was not influenced by “any outside party”.
Hughes was on holiday when, at around 5pm, he communicated his decision to Fulham that he wanted to activate a clause that allowed either party to terminate his contract with one month’s notice. Until that point, the club had been confident that he would remain at Craven Cottage.
“Everything was fine,” said a Fulham source. “Mark had agreed terms and was about to sign. He went on holiday and Gérard Houllier resigns.
"When there was not a job available he seemed willing to sign and everything was done.
“He kept saying that there was a will on both sides to get the deal done. He always alluded to the fact that he was happy. He was planning for next season. It had been agreed verbally.
"The contract had been written and was in the hands of the lawyers. Everything had been done except have it signed. He made it perfectly clear that he was happy.We feel very let down.” Villa have also reassured Fulham.
“Aston Villa are saying to us that they are not interested in him,” said the source. Hughes’ potential new contract would have committed him to Fulham for at least the next two seasons.
He was initially regarded as the first choice to succeed Houllier, but his potential arrival at Villa now seems far from certain. Hughes stressed in his statement that there had been no contact with another club.
He simply alluded to wanting new challenges and it is understood that he simply hopes to progress his career. After guiding Fulham to their second highest Premier League position in finishing eighth and qualifying for the Europa League, there is a sense that he may have taken Fulham as far as they can go without major additional funding.
Hughes could also point to the fact that the decision to have a one-year break clause was agreed mutually last summer and that there was no effort from the club to extend the contract until late in the season.
He grew uneasy about the fact that the break clause could be activated by Fulham. There was also concern over whether Fulham matched his own ambitions, particularly with regard to transfer funding.
“I hope the supporters and all those connected with the club will understand I wish to move on to further my experiences,” said Hughes.
“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.
“I would like to thank the chairman, directors, players and fans of Fulham Football Club for their support over the last 12 months and wish them every success in the future. 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 have especially enjoyed our excellent relationship with the chairman and chief executive [Alastair Mackintosh]. I sincerely wish Fulham a successful campaign in the Europa League next season and for their continued progress on and off the field.”
Fulham’s statement was rather more succinct.
“Fulham Football Club can confirm that Mark Hughes has provided notice, under the terms of his contract, to leave the club at the end of June. After discussions with Mark the club has agreed to accept this notice.”
Fulham have already begun the process of drawing up a shortlist of potential replacements, with Martin Jol, who was their first choice last summer, and Martin O’Neill both expected to figure prominently.
A longer list would include Ancelotti, Steve McClaren and Alan Curbishley. The club are keen to appoint a replacement as soon as possible.
The squad returns for pre-season training on June 23 ahead of a Europa League qualifying campaign that is scheduled to begin the following week.