Football: Hughes' move to Chelsea criticised

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The Independent Online
Mark Hughes, a talismanic figure for Manchester United supporters for 15 years, became the second player to leave Old Trafford in 24 hours yesterday when he was sold to Chelsea for pounds 1.5m. His departure, after Paul Ince's move to Internazionale, means the club has raked in pounds 8.5m this week.

Alex Ferguson, never one to be accused of over-sentimentality, sold Hughes, 31, as part of a clearance sale encouraged by United's failure to win anything last season. "Mark had expressed a wish to leave," the manager said. "He wants first-team football and was concerned about his future with the prospect of Eric Cantona coming back in October and the arrival of Andy Cole."

Hughes, first signed by United as a schoolboy, will team up with Ruud Gullit who moves to Stamford Bridge on 1 July. "It's become a cliche that this club has potential," Chelsea's manager, Glenn Hoddle, said. "Now it's up to the supporters to respond to our ambition. Mark's a wonderful player. Over the last 10 years he's probably been the best striker of his type."

Which was approximately how he was rated by his former followers, the club's independent supporters' organisation describing the move as "bad public relations" while, in turn, United's chairman was provoked to defend the sales.

Martin Edwards, anxious to quell accusations that Hughes and Ince had gone to help with the pounds 28m refurbishment of Old Trafford, said: "On matters of buying and selling it is always the manager's ultimate decision.

"Any reference to the selling of players in order to fund redevelopment work is absolute nonsense. I am on record as saying that over the next couple of years any incoming transfers have to be self-financing."

Aston Villa broke their transfer record by spending pounds 2.5m on Crystal Palace's Gareth Southgate, taking manager Brian Little's spending to over pounds 8m in six months. The 24-year-old midfielder, who signed a four-year contract, was one of three more Palace players yesterday to leave the club following Chris Armstrong's pounds 4.5m move to Tottenham earlier in the week; Andy Preece joined Blackpool for pounds 225,000 while Bobby Bowry went to Millwall for pounds 200,000.