Mark Hughes was in line for a return to Premier League management last night, as Fulham moved to secure his services with the season only 16 days off.
The odds on Hughes taking the job shrunk from 5-4 to 2-9 with William Hill yesterday, as Sven Goran Eriksson dropped out of the running. Though the indication from one party close to discussions late last night was that no Hughes appointment was imminent, it does seems the 46-year-old has gradually been convinced that Fulham is a big enough place to renew his career, seven months after his dismissal at Manchester City.
Having been assured by chairman Mohammed al-Fayed that the funds available will match those of around £15m which were offered to Martin Jol before his move from Ajax fell through, Hughes does seems destined to take on the role, accompanied by Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwiecki, and the goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock, who have worked with him at Blackburn Rovers and City.
Hughes, whose family had been happily settled in the Cheshire village of Mottram St Andrew for the decade since he last worked in the south – as a player at Southampton, had perhaps anticipated a bigger role when he re-entered the game. There was a degree of uncertainty from some close to him as recently as three weeks ago, that the job was right for him. A return to a club of Fulham's size would effectively send him back to a place with the same ambitions which Blackburn Rovers had, when he left them for his first big club job at Eastlands, in June 2008.
Hughes, a deeply ambitious individual, certainly feels he achieved the targets laid out for him at City in a way which might keep him among the game's bigger spenders. He had been intrigued by the job at Anfield, whose senior management hold him in high esteem though feel that a club career which has included Manchester United and Everton made any move for him unlikely.
Al-Fayed has convinced Hughes that he will back him in the transfer market and with the prospect of another season of TV studio analysis, the idea of continuing life outside the game has seemingly become unpalatable. Hughes has been linked with Turkish national job, Celtic and West Ham but instead he will face Sir Alex Ferguson in one month's time, when Manchester Unted travel to Craven Cottage for the second game of the season. Manchester City arrive on 21 November.
There are pressing issues to contend with for the new manager, including the futures of keeper Mark Schwarzer – a target for Arsenal – and striker Bobby Zamora. Schwarzer's departure may presage a move for Portsmouth's David James, subject to Hughes sanctioning it. Fulham first-team coach Ray Lewington will stay at the club.