Fulham start a new era by settling old scores

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The Independent Football

Mark Hughes began his career as Fulham manager yesterday with a remarkable swipe at his former employers at Manchester City, claiming he would have led the club to the Champions League last season had he not been sacked in December.

In an extraordinary press conference at Craven Cottage, Fulham owner Mohamed al-Fayed also called former manager Roy Hodgson "a bugger" who "took advantage" of Fulham and predicted he would fail at Liverpool.

Hughes used the platform of his unveiling at Fulham to launch a vigorous defence of his record at City. He was dismissed by their Abu Dhabi owners at the end of last year to be replaced by Roberto Mancini, whose side was pipped for fourth place at the end of the season by Tottenham Hotspur.

Hughes claimed yesterday that City made an error in replacing him as he was on course for achieving Champions League qualification, even though they were sixth when he was sacked. Asked if he thought he would have successfully led City to fourth place last season, Hughes replied: "Yes I would. I think I would have. I agreed to the targets at the beginning of the season which was to get to sixth position. I agreed to that because I thought we could overachieve. I thought fifth, possibly fourth was very, very achieveable.

"I was disappointed," he added, "because I felt I was doing a good job at City, given the circumstances that I found at the club and all the changes that we had to navigate in my tenure there. I feel that no one else could have done as good a job as I did given the circumstances."

Hughes was dismissed by City just hours after a 4-3 win over Sunderland, with the club in sixth place in the Premier League on a run of two victories in 11 games. Hughes said the new owners wanted to appoint their own man all along, which always counted against him. "There was disappointment because I wasn't able to see the job through. I felt we were we were fully on track with the expectations of the owners. But unfortunately maybe their mindset changed and I wasn't part of their plans. They've moved on and I need to move on.

"One of the big things that went against me at City was I wasn't put in place by the current owners. Maybe that was a significant factor. I have no embarrassment whatsoever about the job I did.

"If you ask the people there, they will probably agree with that. In the end that opportunity was taken away from me. The emotion of feeling bitter is not a good emotion and I have moved on and City have moved on." Hughes added that City's continued spending means they should be aiming for the Premier League title this season.

He comes to Fulham to replace Hodgson, who led the club to their highest ever finish of seventh in the Premier League in 2009 and then reached last season's Europa League final. Fayed however is deeply hurt by Hodgson's decision to take the job at Liverpool, following the departure in June of Rafa Benitez. The 77-year-old former Harrods owner also predicted that Hodgson would fail at Anfield.

Fayed said: 'We gave him [Hodgson] all the support, we believed in him and he just let us down. It's no problem because Mark is much better. He's better looking, too. Roy disappointed the fans, he disappointed the players, he was just a bugger. I did everything for him. But that's his character. He can't help it. I forgive him, anyhow – and I'm sure he's going to get Liverpool downhill. Don't mention Roy Hodgson any more."

Hughes, who has signed a two-year deal with Fulham, played down suggestions he would try to buy Craig Bellamy, saying he could not afford the striker's wages, thought to be around £90,000-a-week. He said: "We are being linked with certain players but as I know their contracts and the money involved, they might be out of our league."