His new salary will be worth just over £2m a year but Mark Hughes knows full well that he will immediately have to swallow his pride as he sets about rebuilding his managerial reputation on the banks of the Thames. Just 21 days from now, Sir Alex Ferguson will sit down at Carrington to discuss Manchester United's impending visit to Hughes' new Fulham side and though he may reiterate his sense of indignation about the way Manchester City treated his former player – who, after watching his new charges play a friendly at Portsmouth on Saturday, will be officially unveiled next Tuesday on a two-year deal – do not imagine he will not resist some payback for the mischievous digs Hughes gave him and United before his last Premier League encounter with his former club, last September.
"I'm sure Sir Alex is sick and tired of people sticking a microphone under his nose and asking him about [City] rather than United," Hughes said in a day of marvellous pre-match theatre. "That hasn't happened in recent years, and I can understand why he gets a little bit irritated, which is quite amusing from my point of view." How the tables have turned on Hughes. His appointment, announced by Fulham last night, takes him from the purgatory of a role in the margins of a television studio but the likely £15m transfer budget at his disposal would not even buy a left-back for City nowadays. After all, Hughes' successor Roberto Mancini has just spent £17m on Aleksander Kolarov for that role. The Welshman is a noisy neighbour no longer.
Ferguson's language may be tempered by the two league defeats United have suffered at Craven Cottage in the past two seasons and also the knowledge that Hughes is, in many ways, back in his natural domain at a club where he is the chairman's actual appointee, and will generally be left alone to run his own ship and nurture a fighting spirit. It is very much how life was at Blackburn Rovers, where until he left in June 2008 Hughes grew close to the chairman, John Williams, though was not expected to be on the telephone to him at every occasion. The problem for him at City was partly cultural: the Abu Dhabi chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak gave Hughes his mobile telephone number but was surprised when he did not call. Mubarak also offered to hire extra coaches to make good City's defensive deficiencies and was surprised when Hughes simply wanted to continue with the close-knit group – Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwiecki and goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock – who will all now be heading to Craven Cottage, too.
But comfortable though Hughes may be at a new club which actively courted him – and he did take some persuading as negotiations dragged into Wednesday evening – will he be content?
Hughes might have wanted to stick to the tried and tested where coaching was concerned at Eastlands but was still enthused when he found that the City chief executive, Garry Cook, actually wanted to involve him in the business side of the club. The story of how Hughes was invited to a Manchester City business away-day at the Shrigley Hall hotel in Cheshire, unexpectedly turned up in a suit and tie while everyone else was dressed casually, but leapt to his feet to involve himself, illustrates that he is an individual who relishes personal development – and operating outside the bounds proscribed by the traditional role of the football manager. When Hughes said this time last year that "I've got more tools to do the job now," he wasn't talking about Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Fulham takes him back to the more predictable manager's life and though their labyrinthine Motspur Park training facility is not as poor as the facilities he said he discovered at City – "it felt like stepping back in time," he recalled after the Abu Dhabis had allowed him to turn Carrington into one of the Premier League's best training grounds – he can be forgiven for feeling a pang of regret at the lost riches. It is why the Liverpool job his Fulham predecessor Roy Hodgson took up this summer was one that his representatives felt was made for him.
Hughes is still seeking his first managerial silverware – Blackburn's FA Cup semi-final defeats in 2005 and 2007, and a place in the last four of the Carling Cup in 2006 was the nearest he got – but the incentive to put that right in west London is amplified by the fact that he now has a big point to prove. Hughes does not feel he failed to meet the targets set him at City and some of the individuals who now appear surplus to requirements in east Manchester may be along to help him at Fulham: the signings of Roque Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy should not be ruled out. "One player who would definitely move [to join him] – and I know this – is Bellamy," fellow Welshman Robbie Savage said yesterday. "He would take a [pay] cut." So forget Ferguson: 21 November, when Mancini and his merry band ride into Craven Cottage, is the real date in the Premier League calendar to salivate over.
Highs and lows with Hughes at the helm
Wales (1999-2004) Hughes failed to lead Wales to the 2002 World Cup, the team having a shocking run during which they won only two games out of 12. Fortunes improved as Wales beat Italy 2-1 in a Euro 2004 qualifier, but his side missed out on the tournament, losing in the play-offs to Russia.
Blackburn Rovers (2004-08) Hughes returned to Ewood, where he'd been a player, to help the club try and avoid relegation in 04-05. Not only did he manage to keep them in the Premier League, he also took them to a first FA Cup semi-final ('05) in over 40 years and a top-six finish in the league ('06), earning qualification for the Uefa Cup.
Manchester City (2008-09) Hughes joined months before the Abu Dhabi takover, and he was saddled with the £32.5m signing Robinho. Despite financial backing, Hughes only secured a 10th-place finish ('09), and after one win in 10 he was sacked last December.