What now for Mark Hughes?
It is hard to imagine him ever at the wheel of a truly big club
The axe finally crashed into the managerial career of Mark Hughes yesterday morning.
It was blunt (the wait to today felt pointless) but there was no outrage, no questioning of Tony Fernandes, the majority shareholder of Queens Park Rangers, no public outcry.
But then Hughes had no collateral. There was not a European Cup success or a grand day out at Wembley, still lurking at the forefront of the memory to provoke anger, or sympathy. It fell the day before QPR faced Manchester United. There was cruelty in that, where Hughes was one of a handful of bullish footballers who dragged that particular club out of the past, but no one cared.
Eight wins in 34 games, 25 per cent of those victories against League One MK Dons (last season in the FA Cup) and Walsall (this season in the Capital One Cup) will do that.
They were fortunate to stay up in Hughes' first campaign, doing so by default, when they lost at Manchester City and Bolton could not win at Stoke. They got smashed for five on the opening day of the current season, by Swansea, after another summer of heavy recruitment (more salary than transfer fee). The tone has been of decline. At some point a boardroom will move into a position where they have to afford change. Hughes could not complain too much. His win ratio from the 30 Premier League games he oversaw was 20 per cent. That level is unsustainable.
There has been change behind the scenes. There is infrastructure. There is an academy network now, where Harry Redknapp will greet 20 staff, rather than the two who Hughes found on his first day. The likelihood of a Raheem Sterling being allowed to leave the youth level of the club for £500,000 is significantly less. There is a scouting system, should Redknapp need one.
None of that matters, not when you cannot buy a win where it matters, on a Premier League match day, but it will mean some of the new manager's work has been done before he cosies into his desk.
For Hughes, bad decisions have carried huge consequences. On February 5, 2011, his lot was rising again. Fulham had just drawn at Aston Villa after recording back-to-back victories against Newcastle and Liverpool. On that day, Robert di Matteo was being sacked at West Bromwich Albion. By the end of the season, Fulham had finished eighth. Then Hughes resigned, and said this; “As a young, ambitious manager I wish to move on to further my experiences.”
It narrowed his possibility. He was out for of the game for seven months, and then came back at Rangers. It always felt a strange fit; a club with aspirations to be Fulham. The experiences have not been good.
He has no desire to leave management, but the decision is no longer his. On that day in February 2011, Tottenham Hotspur were beating Bolton with an eye on a Champions League trip to the SanSiro. They finished fifth. Redknapp was supposed to go to England, not Loftus Road. Di Matteo was supposed to start lower down, not be in a Champions League final 16 months later. Hughes has nowhere to go right now, but the wheel can turn extraordinarily fast in football management. Much of it does not make analytical sense.
It is hard to imagine him ever at the wheel of a truly big club, but then in the last 12 months Stuart Pearce (sacked at Manchester City) has managed (temporarily) England, Robert di Matteo (sacked at West Bromwich Albion) has won the Champions League with Chelsea and Alan Pardew (most recently sacked at League One Southampton) was voted manager of the year for finishing fifth with Newcastle in the Premier League.
They are the strands to which Hughes will attempt to find some comfort today, as he begins his life in the managerial wilderness.
It all began on the international stage, with Wales, back in 1999. Chris Coleman has been in charge of that nation for five games, with only a fortuitous victory against Scotland to show for his troubles. The constant failure of the home nations opens unexpected doors.
For there to be a return to the Premier League, he must hope for a crisis, and they are only ever two bad results away. That he created one at Queens Park Rangers may not deter a would-be employer. The Premier League believes football was invented in 1992. It is a league made for short memories.
Hughes, however, is unlikely to be given an opportunity in the top echelon of English football. Not now, not after what has happened at Rangers. That will hurt more than a blunt axe.
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