Football: Hughes leads on his own terms

Trevor Haylett speaks to the coach given task of Wales' No 2
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The Independent Online
IF THERE was ever any doubt that Mark Hughes would tackle the job of managing Wales on his own terms without recourse to the ways and means of those who preceded him, it was swept away by the revelation of who would be assisting him for his two-game trial which begins in Belarus next week.

By naming Eric Harrison as his No 2, Hughes caused as much of a surprise as the Welsh FA when they appointed him to follow on from Bobby Gould. For those who don't know, Harrison was the youth-team manager at Manchester United for 18 years. Everyone must know that is a responsibility which affords him the privilege of nurturing many of the game's brightest starlets, starting with Hughes and Norman Whiteside as the first of a glittering line which ended with the choice crop of the 1990s: Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil and Gary Neville.

With so much talent spread so lavishly over the years it is unfair to push Harrison on who is the greatest he has worked with. Beckham, he says, is the most technically equipped player, Giggs the best runner and dribbler, while Scholes has the sharpest footballing brain. "But as to who is the best overall that's impossible to say."

Hughes was simply the one with the most courage, though his intelligence and adhesive control also marked him out from an early age as being destined for the very top.

"I have always said the same about Mark, and that is that although he is a shy and quiet man off the field, on it he is like a lion," said Harrison who now helps out at the United Academy on a part-time basis. "He comes alive when the whistle blows."

When Hughes spread his wings and moved on, the pair stayed in touch. When he was handed control of the team he has graced through 15 years and 72 caps, after Terry Venables' contract demands proved prohibitive, it was thought he would look to his contemporaries Ian Rush or Neville Southall - who had hoped to get the job himself after standing in as caretaker against Denmark in June - to be his right-hand man. Peter Shreeves and Bryan Flynn must have come into his thoughts as well but instead Hughes went for someone who's a 61-year-old novice at this level and who, since leaving Everton in 1981 when he was assistant manager, has been concerned mainly with the development of tomorrow's generation.

"I guess Mark has got me on board because of my work on the training ground and my success in organising teams. That's what I am happiest doing. I try to impress on youngsters that need to fit into the team pattern and to respect your team-mates. Mark was always brilliant at that. He was a quick learner and able to observe everything you told him."

Shreeves, who coached Hughes with Wales as assistant to Terry Yorath and also at Chelsea in Glenn Hoddle's term of management says what is so impressive is Hughes' sheer love for the game. "It's something that is not always apparent in players blessed with the ability that Mark has. I remember in 1995 when Wales had a friendly game the day after Manchester United were involved in the FA Cup final. I assumed Mark would not be involved but there he was the next day raring to go for his country. It really sums the man up."

He has a daunting task now with Wales requiring victories in Minsk and at home to Switzerland - and then a little help from elsewhere - to stand any hope of pinching a European Championships play-off place. Harrison recognises that only too well but believes his protege is more than up to the challenge. "People always talk about his physical strength but Mark is mentally strong as well. Once he decides on something he won't be swayed and that's a trait every successful manager must have."