Mark Hughes is not expected to be appointed the new Aston Villa manager despite having exercised the break clause in his two-year Fulham contract last night to make a surprise departure from the club.
Instead Hughes has taken a gamble that he will be offered a better option this summer after just nine months in charge at Fulham. He denied that any contact had taken place between him or his agent Kia Joorabchian and Villa although it is understood that he has been told that he is no longer at the top of the list for Villa owner Randy Lerner.
Hughes had the break clause written into his deal when he agreed to join Fulham last summer because the club would not match the wages paid to him in his previous job at Manchester City. Since then, Hughes has also been frustrated by the Fulham hierarchy’s unwillingness to talk about the money available for transfers this summer.
It means that the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Steve McClaren and Roberto Martinez are all still possibilities for Villa. There reasons for turning away from Hughes are not yet clear.
Hughes feels in private that he has spent virtually nothing on his team in net terms over the nine months he has been in charge at Fulham. Should he get another job, he will want to take his two key assistants Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki with him - both are on one-year rolling contracts and would require compensation payments to Fulham.
Hughes has always been an awkward fit at Fulham despite eventually taking the club to an eighth place finish and a place in the Europa League via the Fair Play table. Last summer he had misgivings about the difficult task of following Roy Hodgson’s success in reaching the Europa League final the season before and did not relocate his family to the south when he took the Fulham job.
He would have much preferred the Villa job last summer then but the timing of Martin O’Neill’s abrupt departure meant that he had already signed a contract at Craven Cottage by the time the opportunity came up.
In the last two weeks, Fulham had attempted to persuade Hughes to sign a new contract but had come to realise that was a hopeless task as it became obvious that other jobs, including those at Villa, were likely to present themselves during the summer.
Hughes’ departure means that Fulham must now begin the search for a new manager with O’Neill, Carlo Ancelotti, Alan Curbishley, Claudio Ranieri, Martin Jol and Steve McClaren all in the frame. The former Fulham midfielder Lee Clark, now Huddersfield Town manager, who missed out on promotion to the Championship in the League One play-off final last month is an outside bet for the job
Houllier’s admission that medical tests had shown he would not be fit to manage Villa until September prompted the club to seek a way out of their deal with the Frenchman on Wednesday. As it became clear over the last two months that he would not be able to resume duties this summer they were forced to examine their options elsewhere.
In a bold statement that did not details any of his private frustrations with the club, Hughes told the Fulham supporters that there was no other motive in his decision to leave the club other than seeking new “experiences”. He said: “I hope the supporters and all those connected with the club will understand I wish to move on to further my experiences.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify that neither myself nor my representative have approached or have been approached by another club. This decision to leave Fulham has not been influenced by any outside party.”
Hughes cannot take up a role at another club in an official capacity until his notice runs out at the end of this month, Fulham said last night. He had effectively become a free agent yesterday when the break clause in his contract was triggered.