Right, so Mark Hughes appears to be a done deal, if we are to believe the Guardian, Mail and Express (even if ESPN aren’t quite so sure). Oddly enough, when I heard the news, I was neither terribly excited nor filled with dread. Just filled with a strange sense of apathy. Anyways, my two cents for what they’re worth. (Well, two cents, obviously…..)
Yes, it could have been better. But at least the board have been ambitious in their pursuit for a new manager. Clearly Ottmar Hitzfeld was sounded out, but he turned the club down to finish the last two years of his career at international level with Switzerland. Martin Jol was always my personal choice, and was delighted to see that Fulham were trying so hard to get him, but in the end Ajax would not let him go. Reportedly, it would have taken some £8.4m to have persuaded Ajax to let go. I would have been happy with Sven Goran Eriksson too, and could see him being a good “fit” at Fulham for some reason. But Al Fayed clearly never really fancied him for the job.
Equally, however, it could have been a lot, lot worse. This is not the disaster that some fans are suggesting. Who else was available? Lee Clark – Fulham legend, but not proven in the Premier League. Same applies to Sean O’Driscoll. Whilst I believe that lower league managers should get their chance at the top level, clearly Al Fayed still has the reign of Lawrie Sanchez lodged firmly in mind, and is understandably determined not to go down that route again – perhaps why Dave Jones was discounted. Similarly, Jurgen Klinsmann and Slaven Bilic fell at a similar hurdle. Like Sanchez, they did pretty well at international level. At club level however, the former failed at Bayern whilst the latter has managed for only five games at club level, at Hajduk Spilt. Bob Bradley is a similar story – outside of the USA national team, he has managed Chicago Fire, MetroStars and Chivas USA. Rather a gamble to take.
Then there are the likes of Alan Curbishley – a good manager for a Fulham-level club, but one with some serious issues with numerous members of our playing staff; Stuart Baxter – a Hodgson-lite, it seems, with no experience of managing in England; Gianfranco Zola apparently expressed his interest, but was told thanks, but no thanks. Apart from that, who else was a viable option? Glenn Hoddle was mentioned in passing, but has been out of the game since 2006, and is concentrating on his academy. Would Manuel Pellegrini really have taken such a step down from the Bernabeu to Craven Cottage? It is clear that Fulham have taken their time to assess all the candidates, and to choose who they believe is the right man for the job.
What Fulham have got in Mark Hughes is a manager who has done well in the Premier League before, and has a point to prove that he can do so again. After doing well as the manager of Wales, he was a resounding success at Blackburn Rovers, leading them to three top-10 finishes in his four years there, including a 6th and a 7th. Deservedly so, he was hailed as being one of the best “up-and-coming” managers in the game, and all but a few years ago was heavily linked as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford.
I’m not entirely sure where this belief that Hughes has his teams play Allardyce-esque football comes from. What what I’ve seen, his teams have been (mostly) solid in the centre, with emphasis placed on counter-attacking football down the wings. Admittedly, at Blackburn they came last in the disciplinary rankings for all of his four seasons there, but how much of that was already part of the footballing culture there before he arrived, I’m not sure. What is worrying, however, is that his teams aren’t great defensively. Hopefully retaining Ray Lewington will help us keep some of the positional organisation and discipline that was such an important part of our game under Roy Hodgson.
Hughes got his move to Manchester City, where he was not the disaster that some people would have us to believe. He was sacked with Manchester City a respectable 6th in the league, having only lost once in the league all season (and that in Fergie-time at Old Trafford). Another negative thrown at him is that he wasted millions on average players at Manchester City (£22m for Joleon Lescott, anyone?). However, it must be emphasised that Manchester City do not play with the same financial constraints as everybody else, and as a result other clubs with take advantage of this when City come after their players. Whoever is at Manchester City will have to spend millions to get even the most average of players, that’s just the way it is now. Perhaps Hughes is one of those managers who are far better at finding bargains than splashing wads of cash. The Manchester City and Blackburn fans I have spoken to say that he has a good eye for a bargain, as was amply demonstrated by his time at Ewood Park.
There’s inevitably going to be much speculation now on which players Hughes is going to sign, and who will leave the club. Mark Schwarzer, Paul Konchesky and Bobby Zamora have all been heavily linked with moves away at some stage this summer, with the first two looking the more likely. Will they stay or go now that Hughes has been appointed? A deal for Steve Sidwell has been agreed, pending whether Hughes approves the deal, and whether Sidwell is happy to work with Hughes. David James is said to fancy playing at Fulham, and has been holding out until Schwarzer’s future is resolved before committing himself to anything.
Much of the transfer speculation will doubtless focus on Manchester City players, such as Craig Bellamy, Roque Santa Cruz, Stephen Ireland and Nedum Onuoha. Personally, I cannot see these players making their way to ply their trade at Craven Cottage, at least, not all of them. For a start, Fulham only have £20m to spend – the club cannot afford to buy them. Secondly, their wages are quite simply out of our league. If Fulham were to get any of them, my guess would be that they would be loan signings. The new rules regarding 25-man squads will mean that City will be paying for players to literally do nothing. Whilst I’m sure they can afford it, it wouldn’t surprise me too much, for instance, if there was an offer to pay 50% of some players’ wages if they might come to the club on loan until January, or even the end of the season.
This is going to be an interesting couple of months for us Fulham fans. What changes will Hughes make to the management staff, playing staff and style of play? How well will Hughes and the players gel? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how will the start of the season pan out? ¬Sure, after waiting for what seems like ages, it would have been nice to have got a genuinely world-class manager. Hughes is probably as good as Fulham could possibly expect to get at this moment, with the possible exception of Jol. Personally, I am actually more interested than excited in how this appointment will develop. And I fear that is part of the problem people are having with this appointment.