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Saturday, 09 October 2004

1101: MANAGER PROFILE: Mark Hughes,

by : Chris Sherrard

If Mark Hughes turns out to be half as good as a manager as he was a player then he will surely add to his personal trophy cabinet and growing reputation in the years ahead.

After ending his glittering playing career at Blackburn Rovers, the Welshman now finds his first domestic top job is at the same club. But Hughes is no rookie. Nearly five years coaching his country have included many highs and the obligatory Welsh disappointment.

The softly-spoken Wrexham native made his name in the game as a devastating striker with Manchester United, Barcelona and Chelsea where he won league titles and FA Cups with the same force with which he struck the ball. His incredible strength and power became his hallmark as images of unstoppable volleys became his signature strike.

He scored on his Wales debut against England in 1983 and that early career form earned him the coveted PFA Young Player of the Year award in 1985 – the season he won his first major trophy in Wembley’s Cup Final against Everton. The following year, Hughes’ reputation across Europe had grown to such a level that Barcelona paid over £2million to take him to Catalonia. Sparky struggled to adapt and was loaned out to Bayern Munich before Alex Ferguson eventually brought him ‘home’ in 1988 for £1.7million.

It proved a masterstroke with Hughes instantly settling back into the old routine, picking up the Player of the Year award in 89 and helping the club to the FA Cup the following season. And from there, the silverware kept coming for Hughes and United. The European Cup Winners Cup was next in 1991 when the Welshman scored two particularly satisfying goals against Barca in the final and again picked up the Player of the Year gong. Then came the League Cup at Wembley in 1992 before United finally won the ‘big one’ after 25 barren years.

Hughes was instrumental as Old Trafford celebrated league success in 1993 and then, in 1994, his spectacular late volley against Oldham spurred United on to the league and cup double. In the summer of 95, Ferguson shocked the United faithful by releasing three of the club’s strongest performers with Hughes joining Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis through the exit door. Chelsea were the club to benefit from a still influential Hughes and within two years of his £1.5million arrival at Stamford Bridge he picked up his fourth FA Cup in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough. It was Cup Winners Cup success again the following season before Hughes left for the south coast to join Southampton.

Whilst a Saints player, Sparky was handed a caretaker role with Wales after Bobby Gould’s resignation. He impressed the FAW so much that they offered him a four-and-a-half year contract to lead his country.

A short spell at Everton followed before his move to Ewood Park in late 2000 where he proved he still had something left to give by scoring twice on his debut and helping the club to promotion from Division One.

By 2001, Wales were ranked at an all-time low position of 110 but Hughes guided them through an unbeaten 2002 and hopes were high of making Euro 2004 after a home win over giants Italy. The Welsh fell away, though, and missed out on Portugal after a play-off defeat to Russia. Even so, they now sit in the top 50 of the world’s footballing nations and continue to rise.

The lure of managing a club side proved too strong at the start of the 2004-05 season when Blackburn asked Hughes to replace the departed Graeme Souness. But his managerial reputation continues to grow and he has shown in his short time at Rovers that he has more than what it takes to make it in the Premiership.

Chris Sherrard
26/09/2004

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