The £50 question: can Hughes learn to live on Fayed's pocket money?

Fulham's new manager must follow Hodgson's success on a far tighter budget than he had at City
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The Independent Football

Life at Fulham will be very different to Mark Hughes's previous employment at Manchester City, something made abundantly clear during his official unveiling yesterday.

As the new Fulham manager, dressed in a sharp grey suit and club tie, was midway through one of the answers, the club's eccentric chairman Mohamed al-Fayed wandered in and took his seat at the top table alongside his new employee.

Al Fayed immediately seized centre stage, saying Hughes was much better-looking than his predecessor Roy Hodgson. The Egyptian then capped it all by dipping into his pocket and pulling out a £50 note when Hughes said he would be asking the owner about funds to buy a new striker. From his time at Manchester City, the Welshman is well used to the club's owners flaunting their money, but not quite like this.

At first glance, the marriage between Fulham and Hughes appears to be an odd one. Hughes, 46, is one of the most ambitious managers in British football, unfortunate to have been sacked by City's ambitious owners late last year. It would appear he is taking quite a step down to manage Fulham, who have been punching above their weight in recent years under Hodgson.

Yet Hughes said yesterday this perception was wrong. He said he has been convinced by Al Fayed and the chief executive Alistair Mackintosh that the club is going places, even though the net worth of Fulham's assets would be equivalent to what Hughes spent in last summer's transfer window.

He was not even the club's first choice; 10 days ago Fulham were embarrassingly stood up by Martin Jol, who changed his mind and decided to stay with Ajax.

Yet Hughes admitted he had got fed up twiddling his thumbs – in fact, he was learning to ski – while out of work and, under the circumstances, Fulham feels right. It may not be the perfect fit, but he believes the marriage of convenience will be beneficial to both sides.

"Maybe the perception that I had of Fulham's ambition and Fulham's ambition in terms of the level of manager they could bring to the club were wrong. Once I had the opportunity to sit down with Alistair and discuss the aims of the club, and the chairman's aims as well, it became clear it was an option I needed to consider very carefully. It feels a good fit at the moment," Hughes said.

The attraction for Fulham is obvious – a bright manager with a reputation at Blackburn in particular of creating a team hard to beat, but doing it on a shoestring budget.

It is perhaps harder to see why Hughes would accept the job at Fulham, given they have just enjoyed the best two seasons of their recent history. He must at least match the achievements of Hodgson or be viewed a failure. However, Hughes is adamant he will be able to improve on Hodgson's results.

"Whenever I've gone into a club I've tried to over-achieve. I don't play down expectations. Some managers do. Some managers downplay it and then get a pat on the back. I don't operate like that. Supporters need to feel they can achieve something," he said.

"The way I set my teams up will lend well to what's already in place and make Fulham possibly stronger than they were in the last two years."

First, Hughes must hang on to what he has got, with Arsenal having offered £2m for goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Other Fulham players, including Danny Murphy, Zoltan Gera, Paul Konchesky and Dickson Etuhu, each have one year remaining on their contract. Striker Bobby Zamora is likely to be offered an improvement on his £25,000-a-week deal to ward of interest from the likes of Birmingham and Sunderland.

It is all a far cry from City, where Hughes became used to spending millions, and even had new players handed to him that he never wanted in the first place. "On some occasions at City players were presented to me which I didn't really have a direct input on," he said. "But you get a phone call and someone says 'Would you like Robinho?', then as a manager you say, 'Yes, I would'."

Now at Fulham, Hughes has a chairman who hands him a £50 note when he says he wants a new striker. Wisely, Hughes tucked the note away and kept it in his pocket.

Do their claims add up?

* Mark Hughes suggested he would have led Manchester City into the Champions League last season, but his points per game average at City last season - 1.71 - would only have been enough to take City to 65 points and fifth place – where they actually finished.

* Mohamed al-Fayed claimed Roy Hodgson would "get Liverpool downhill". Hodgson's managerial record, though, is impressive – taking Switzerland to the World Cup, Internazionale into a Uefa Cup final and Fulham to finishes of 10th, seventh and the Europa League final.

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