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Thursday 23 January 2020

Hughes can emulate Hodgson at Fulham

Mark Hughes. Photo: Getty Images
Mark Hughes. Photo: Getty Images

In an era where the mirage of foreign flair continues to obscure the chances for good domestic managers, Martin Jol's decision to say no to Fulham may has inadvertently done the game in this country a great service.

As obvious second choices go, Mark Hughes is not a bad man to be sliding into the chair vacated, coincidentally, by one of the few other British-born bosses to discover the Barclays Premier League can be an upwardly-mobile scale.

Any surprise that Hughes chose to end his seven month hiatus from the game following his dismissal from Manchester City should not revolve around his willingness to start afresh at Craven Cottage.

Rather, it should hover over the fact that Hughes was the second choice at all: also, that no other clubs had seen fit to come in for him in the period in which one of the best homegrown bosses of his generation kicked his heels away from the sidelines.

Most seasoned observers accept the manner of Hughes' departure from Eastlands bordered on the palpably absurd, as a newly-minted club sought instead a sharp-suited statement of intent over the down-to-earth detritus of the previous regime.

True, Hughes had led his side to only two wins in 11 Premier League games prior to his exit but he did so in a climate in which cherry-picked stars were being bussed in almost daily with egos as big as their wage packets.

Hughes' successor, Roberto Mancini, has hardly succeeded in waving a magic wand over the light blue half of Manchester, missing out on a Champions League place and clinging on blindly while those in upstairs boardrooms continue to flash the cash.

Perhaps Hughes' shrewd style of management was lost on City. It will certainly be welcomed with open arms at Craven Cottage where Roy Hodgson has carefully nurtured a squad which positively glows with over-achievement.

For a better gauge of Hughes' true credentials it is best to disregard the City experiment and remember instead his success at Blackburn, not dissimilar to his new employers in terms of size and ambition.

Ostensibly given the task of simply saving Rovers from relegation, Hughes proceeded to transform the club into genuine top-half contenders, leading them into Europe as well as to their first FA Cup semi-final in over 40 years.

Crucially, Hughes pulled off a series of remarkable successes in the transfer market, stretching his relatively limited budget to the full to bring in little-known talents he could mould into Premier League stars.

Hughes resurrected the top-level career of David Bentley, giving the Arsenal outcast the freedom he craved to transform his career into an England contender before he moved on to Tottenham netting Rovers a clear profit in the region of £15million.

Stephen Warnock and Roque Santa Cruz would also prove themselves great successes and ultimately move on for profit. But Hughes was not only interested in cultivating players for the bigger names to cherry-pick.

Arguably Hughes' greatest achievement was picking up New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen on a free transfer from DC United in January 2005. At the time Nelsen was so obscure Rovers had to appeal to get a work permit.

Nelsen went on to become one of the most respected centre-halves in the game and even a bona fide star of the 2010 World Cup as he captained the Kiwis to an improbable unbeaten group stage campaign.

For Nelsen also read Christopher Samba, the 6ft 4in Congolese player plucked from Hertha Berlin for less than £500,000 and now, like Nelsen, an integral part of Sam Allardyce's Blackburn starting line-up.

Neither Nelsen nor Samba offer much headline glamour and there is a similar sense that Hughes' roaring success at Ewood Park is too readily overlooked, particularly in the midst of a City revolution where patience was most certainly not a required virtue.

Fulham have seen the bigger picture and it may just be that ebullient owner Mohamed Al Fayed has just pulled off the most astute signing of the season, filling the enormous void left by Hodgson with the man most capable of emulating him.

The game as a whole ought to cheer Hughes on to more success. He is a welcome antidote to the get-cool-quick brigade of boardroom wheeler-dealers who believe the pre-requisite for on-pitch success lies in an Italian or Spanish accent in the dugout.

Jol, arguably as shabbily treated at Tottenham at Hughes was at City, continues to do commendable things at Ajax.

When he elected to stay and seek success in his homeland, he left the way open for Hughes to do the same.

PA Media

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