Hughes takes over at Blackburn after Wales give up the struggle

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The Independent Online

Mark Hughes was named the new manager of Blackburn Rovers last night after the Football Association of Wales realisedit was futile to attempt to hold him to his contract.

Mark Hughes was named the new manager of Blackburn Rovers last night after the Football Association of Wales realisedit was futile to attempt to hold him to his contract.

Yesterday morning, Hughes was given permission to talk to Blackburn, which given that he had already met their directors on Monday night, became a formality. The FAW could not hope to match the salary on offer from Rovers, who are thought to be seeking compensation of around £300,000 for a contract that had two years to run. Hughes can be expected to bring his assistant, Mark Bowen, to Ewood Park and will take charge of team affairs after Saturday's game against Portsmouth.

For the first month of his contract at Blackburn, Hughes will job-share, overseeing Welsh preparations for their passionately-anticipated World Cup qualifier with England at Old Trafford while his final match as Wales manager will be against Poland at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on 13 October. Then the search will begin for a successor - probably Ian Rush - to lead Wales against Austria in March.

Only once the Poland game is done will it be clear whether Hughes is right to be taking his leave now. However, it appears increasingly likely that Wales have passed a brief and sometimes thrilling peak. Too many of Hughes' first team are over 30 and two stumbling draws against Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland were indicative of deeper problems. Once Hughes goes, Ryan Giggs, the one world-class player the Welsh possess, will consider his future and he will probably announce his international retirement before the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign is over.

Hughes, who as a sometimes shy man was not obvious managerial material, transformed football in the Principality, although only once he gave up playing for Blackburn. The glittering highlight was unquestionably the 2-1 defeat of Italy at the Millennium Stadium in October 2002. Wales, however, have never really recovered from the return fixture with the Italians a year ago; a 4-0 rout at San Siro in which they might have conceded eight. They have not won a competitive fixture in eight attempts since, including a harsh defeat in the Euro 2004 play-offs to Russia.

Hughes was not short of job-offers but he rejected Southampton, who saw him as a successor to Gordon Strachan, because he was unwilling to uproot his family from Cheshire. Blackburn, however, is within safe commuting distance and despite their miserable position, second bottom of the Premiership, they are still a club with financial clout.

There is one obvious name as Hughes' replacement but given his resignation after one match as Wales manager a decade ago and his sometimes trenchant criticisms of the FAW, John Toshack will probably not be given a job he appears eminently qualified for.

Hughes' likeliest successor is Rush, which sounds ridiculous for someone who has just taken over at Chester City, but the FAW has long been impressed by his coaching abilities with their Under-17 team. And, having won European Cups with Liverpool, Rush has an aura about him that demands respect from modern footballers. The same could not be said of Brian Flynn, however well he managed Wrexham and Swansea.

Those who see Gary Speed, the Wales captain, as a candidate, perhaps with Sir Bobby Robson as a mentor, are sober enough to realise that while appointing an untried manager like Hughes was a success, it is a difficult feat to repeat. Robson, who turned down managing Wales in 1993 because the salary was six times less than Porto could offer, may again be deterred by the factor that drove Hughes into Blackburn's arms: the lack of hard cash in Cardiff.

Hughes' career as a player and international manager has been characterised by a battling nature and win-at-all-costs attitude. As a striker he was uncompromising and used strength as much as skill. Although he will be remembered for acrobatic volleys, Hughes also took the game to defenders with a unique physical style.

The former Wales striker signed professional terms with Manchester United in 1980 and his performances earned him a move to the Spanish club Barcelona in 1986. After an unhappy stay with the Catalans, he returned to Old Trafford two years later after a loan spell at Bayern Munich.

His second spell at the club started with Alex Ferguson rebuilding the club while under intense pressure to win trophies. Mark Robins was always credited with "saving" Ferguson's job with a winner against Nottingham Forest in the 1990 FA Cup third round - but it was Hughes who rescued them in the final that year when they were losing to Crystal Palace.

United were unstoppable after that season. They beat Barcelona 2-1 in the European Cup Winners' Cup final the following year with Hughes scoring both goals against his old side. By the time he left Old Trafford for Chelsea in 1995, United dominated the Premiership and Hughes had also won a league and Cup Double.

After Chelsea, Hughes went on to play for Southampton, Everton and Blackburn.

MARK HUGHES LIFE AND TIMES

1963: Born Wrexham on 1 November.

1978: Signs schoolboy forms with Manchester United.

1983: Makes debut for United in League Cup.

1984: Scores on international debut for Wales against England.

1986: Joins Barcelona in a £2.3m deal.

1988: Signs again for Manchester United for £1.8m.

1995: Signs for Chelsea for £1.5m.

1999: 25 November - Agrees four-and-a-half-year deal as Wales manager, the first 18 months of which is to be served on a part-time basis.

2000: 14 March - Joins Everton on a 14-month deal.

24 October - Joins Blackburn on a free transfer.

2002: 13 May - Retires at the age of 38.

2003: 20 November - Wales beaten by Russia in Euro 2004 play-off but Hughes insists he wants to stay in charge.

2004: 12 June - Awarded OBE in Queen's birthday honours list.

4 September - Poor start to World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw away against Azerbaijan.

13 September - Hughes insists he has "no plans" to give up Wales job, despite reported interest from managerless Blackburn.

14 September - Hughes' representative, Dennis Roach, says Hughes would be keen to speak with Blackburn about the vacancy.

15 September - Football Association of Wales confirms approach from Blackburn for Hughes and give him permission to speak to the Premiership club.

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