Hughes calls for passion to seize romantic victory

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The Independent Football

All the rooms at the Welsh team hotel which stands next to the Granada Studios in Manchester have a television theme and Mark Hughes' is decorated with pictures of Sherlock Holmes.

Given the venue of today's match and the Wales coach's current employers, perhaps a photograph of the Rovers Return would have been more apt. Now that Hughes has decided to forsake Wales for Blackburn - and some, including the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, thought it was time to go - he would have wanted an unlikely and romantic victory at Old Trafford to mark his goodbye.

In his five years as Wales coach, a term that comes to an end on Wednesday, Hughes has done much to overhaul football in the Principality. He has persuaded the Football Association of Wales to charter planes for away games, insisted on better hotels and training regimes, but like an iceberg in a millpond, the question of match fees jutted out as a reminder that some things remain the same.

It would be wrong to say his squad spent the build-up to this afternoon's World Cup qualifier squabbling about money but their £300 match fee and the £100 win bonus put into relief the disparity between the two sides who line up at Old Trafford today.

They were affronted by the principle of Wales paying half the rate that the impoverished Northern Ireland FA dole out and nearly seven times less than what England pay. They were angry on behalf of Hughes' back-room staff, who do not measure their pay in terms of thousands of pounds per week, and they considered it insulting they should be asked to pay their own extras at the Victoria & Albert Hotel.

"There was a feeling that the issue should have been addressed before this campaign started. Sometimes the decision-making process of the Welsh FA drags on," said Hughes. "It was not about how much players were getting paid. No Welsh player goes on to the pitch thinking about the match fee and, if they did, they would have stopped playing for Wales many years ago."

The price of fame, he said, was much higher. Twenty years ago, in his home town of Wrexham, Hughes scored the winner in the last meeting between these two nations. Bobby Robson did not field a great side at the Racecourse Ground - John Gregory, Alvin Martin, David Armstrong and Paul Walsh all started - but scoring gave Hughes, not yet 21, the confidence to continue his breakthrough with Manchester United. Anyone in a Welsh shirt who scores at Old Trafford today will be lionised. Certainly, they will be cheered by Ferguson, who has been through the match with Hughes and is hoping for a win for the wider Celtic nation.

"You want to make your mark on football," Hughes said. "Every player in the squad is a man of means and earns a reasonable amount of money. As a football player you get the rewards but you get to a stage where it's about what you've done in the game. Matches like this present opportunities."

Hughes is not a man for rash predictions, but yesterday he seemed utterly convinced that Ryan Giggs would seize the moment on his home ground as Wales desperately need him to. Although he is not quite touched by the Ulsterman's genius, Giggs is to Wales what George Best was to Northern Ireland. Every time they played England, Best recalled, he wanted to "do" them but he never did, finishing with a record of six matches, six defeats and one goal.

"It is a big stage for Ryan and one he is used to. He has had a wonderful career at Old Trafford and sometimes he can be unplayable," said his coach. Asked how he knew Giggs would shine, Hughes remarked: "Just because of the way he has started the season. The stage is there for him."

Asked if he would have fancied Wales playing England at Old Trafford when he took over five years ago, Hughes was blunt. "Certainly not. I don't think we were in a situation where we could compete against the best teams in the world. We were at a very low ebb when I took over the job and now I think we are respected in international football and that's something the players should be proud of."

And yet, in certain areas, the disparity between the teams is as great as their respective match fees. Sven Goran Eriksson's likely side has a transfer value of £111m, 10 times that of Hughes' team. Wales could be said to have an international-class attack, a Premiership-quality midfield but a defence that would not be out of place in the Coca-Cola Championship. Neither his goalkeeper, Paul Jones, nor his most experienced centre-half, Andy Melville, is currently good enough for Wolves or West Ham.

Hence the call for passion, although the danger is that it might overflow dangerously. Hughes smiled when reminded that his own physical style might have caused problems in a match like this.

"Sometimes the passion is flowing through your veins and you have to control it. Games like this are the ones I thrived in. A number of players will go to a game of this stature with apprehension and nerves but I never did. I just used to be stimulated. You have similar emotions as a manager but once they go out on the pitch there is a helplessness because there is not a great deal you can do. They are on their own then."