When Mark Hughes walked away from Fulham on 1 June the assumption was that he had a new job lined up. But Hughes says that it was Fulham's reluctance to build on his eighth-place finish last season that convinced him he had to leave.
The 47-year-old looked a shoo-in to replace Gérard Houllier at Aston Villa but he says that was never on the cards. Instead he decided to take his chance on the job market with a record that includes a sixth-place finish with Blackburn in 2005-2006. At three clubs, Hughes has only once finished outside the top 10 and that was his first season at Blackburn, when he took over five games into the campaign.
In the run-up to 1 June, Hughes became aware that attempts to sign new players at Fulham were not progressing well. "I had given them a couple of names and I saw a slowing down of the process," he says. "They were saying 'We will do it' and 'We're speaking' and I read that as the fact that maybe they didn't want to do these deals. I read that that maybe they didn't want to keep the club in the top half of the Premier League which was my ambition. There was the date of 1 June and the closer it got, the less inclined I was to sign it [the contract] because it would have meant me committing further than the one year I had left. I was feeling real concerns in terms of age and the guys that would have to be replaced to keep the level the same. In the end I came to the conclusion it would be better just to shake hands and walk away."
The 1 June clause in Hughes' agreement with Fulham allowed both parties a 24-hour window in which to part company without any terms. Hughes admits he was fortunate to be sufficiently financially secure to take it. Having "compromised" at Manchester City, he was not prepared to do so again. "Fulham have been a team that is middle to lower. My view was that with a little bit of investment ... they could be middle to top half. Then you are playing games of significance for all the right reasons, not because you are in the shit and you need to get out, which is not an enjoyable experience. Yeah, it gets the emotions going but you don't want to be involved in all that. You want to be battling against the big boys.
"When I left Blackburn, my reputation was high. When I left City, I took a few knocks but in the end I think people realise I did a decent job there. I took a chance going to Fulham and I had to replicate what Roy [Hodgson] had done and he had done remarkably well. We turned it round after Christmas because of how I work and how my team works. So I restored my reputation by getting back up to eighth. But I just felt there was a danger that you go to the other end and you are perceived as another British manager. "British manager" seems to have a certain label to it that you are OK to keep teams in the Premier League and you are middle to average but nothing better than that."
Hughes has been taking intensive lessons to improve his Spanish. "Are you going to get the right job in Portugal or Spain?" he says. "No, you're not. But if you do have a go, there is not so much of a glass ceiling and you might get an opportunity to pick up a top club, which is more difficult here."