Mark Hughes: The most deluded man in football?

by James Bruce

A quick glance at Tony Fernandes’s twitter bio sees the internationally renowned entrepreneur and Queens Park Rangers chairman describe himself as a dreamer.

Scroll a little further down and you will find him once again urging QPR supporters for patience; the message: “keep calm, we will come good.”

It will seem all too familiar to fans, who, with more than a quarter of the season played and still no wins, are left wondering when Fernandes will wake up and bring the nightmare reign of Mark Hughes to an end.

The problem with the influx of wealthy outsiders into the game’s highest positions is that they are not footballing men, they do not have the knowledge and understanding of the sport that past owners had, and rely heavily on advisers whose motives do not always match up with their own or those of the fans.

Despite spending the summer assembling a team of mercenaries akin to the latest Expendables blockbuster, Fernandes finds his team seven league positions worse off than at this stage last season, and must be scratching his head as to where he has gone wrong.

Fernandes is just the latest in a line of foreign owners to be disappointed by Hughes, and it is hard not to feel a tinge of sympathy towards him (as much sympathy as one can have for a multimillionaire).

Hughes spent an astonishing total of £272.75 million in just 18 months at Manchester City, failing to get anywhere near the best out of big name signings such as Adebayor (£25m), Tevez (£25.5m), Lescott (£22m), and Bellamy (£14m); and wasting big money on flops such as Robinho (32.5m), Jo (£18m), and Roque Santa Cruz (£17.5m). After a spell of just 2 wins in 11 league games he was replaced by Roberto Mancini who has since gone on to win the FA Cup and Premier League with many of the same players that Hughes had at his disposal.

It was therefore a surprise when Fulham owner Mohammed al Fayed gave him another chance to manage a Premier League club, but bizarrely after less than 11 months Hughes repaid him by resigning, stating: “as a young, ambitious manager I wish to move on to further my experiences.” Leaving a bemused al Fayed to describe Hughes as “a strange man”.

A year later Hughes was presiding over West London rivals QPR in a relegation dogfight, while Fulham finished in the top half of the table.

It wouldn’t be the last statement to come back to haunt Hughes.

After losing the last game of the season at Manchester City and avoiding relegation by just 1 point in May he uttered the now infamous lines, “We’ll never be in this situation again while I’m the manager”.

With an extrapolated points total of just 15 if the remaining 28 games follow the same pattern as the first 10, many QPR fans would now happily settle for a situation in which they achieve survival come next May.

Watching his post match interview after the Reading game this weekend, you would think the Welshmans side had just come off the pitch at Old Trafford; not at home against a newly promoted club who had not won a game all season and were recovering from a draining 120 minutes of midweek madness against Arsenal in which they managed to concede seven times.

“Teams aren’t going to allow us to play our expansive game and pass and move.” he says. Newsflash: no team, not even Reading, are going to turn up and allow you to pass the ball around them and make them look like chumps.

If you are unable to assert your style of play at home against one of the weakest sides in the league one wonders if this style of play is really the best way forward, or indeed if it exists at all outside the realms of Hughes’ imagination.

“The key is that first win, once we get that things will settle down and we can play our football.” This is another of his favourite lines lately which suggests there is a Pandora’s box just waiting to be opened at Loftus Road and upon the receival of three points we will all suddenly see a dazzling new QPR whizz up the table and take up their rightful place challenging for a Champions League spot with Barcelona style flair and possession.

For anybody still believing the fantasy that Hughes is a great footballing scholar in the mould of Guardiola or Del Bosque: his rough and ready Blackburn side finished rock bottom of the disciplinary table all 4 seasons he was in charge; last season his club captain was Joey Barton – he is by no means a purist. This is just the latest smoke screen to deter fans and Fernandes from unsatisfactory performances and results and to keep himself in the job a little longer; a job which will surely be his last in the Premier League.

There have been arrogant managers before him, great ones too, like Brian Clough and Jose Mourinho. They get away with it by coming across as charismatic, inspiring, likeable. There is nothing likeable about Hughes. He lacks charm and charisma, and has twice failed to get anywhere near the best out of two expensively assembled teams. His greatest achievement to date is leading Blackburn Rovers to the FA Cup semi finals, but listening to him in interviews you would think he had achieved as much as the greats mentioned above.

Fernandes certainly wants to believe the hype, confidently outlining plans last week for a new 45,000 capacity stadium stating “if we are playing good football and have a good stadium, people will come”.

Hughes, who turned 49 last week, surely won’t be at Loftus Road by the time he turns 50. The question is how many more dreamers like Fernandes will be conned by the dour Welshman and leave their club at the whim of his unique blend of arrogance, overspending and dangerous delusions of grandeur.

17 Responses

  1. AM says:

    Interesting. But you fail to mention the fact that QPR has been something a graveyard for managers for several years. Before Hughes, QPR were getting through managers like most clubs get through tea bags. Between 2007 and 2010 QPR got through 10 managers. TEN!!
    That sounds like a club in crisis to me. A policy of hire ‘em and fire ‘em never works and it just ensures the rot sets in sooner rather than later.

    1. James Bruce says:

      Agreed the shambolic recent history of ownership, management etc at QPR deserves an article in itself but the focus was on Hughes here and not his current club.

    2. Hub says:

      That’s an ill-informed opinion. The recent managerial merry-go-round was a by-product of Briatore’s absurdly large ego. With him and Ecclestone gone, Fernandes is trying to bring stability, which is why he’s sticking with Hughes. Absurd asit may seem, I still think QPR will turn it around.

  2. simon says:

    who actually wrote this piece? I have seen it a few times and each time attributed to a different writer.

    1. James Bruce says:

      I wrote it Simon; what do you think? And where have you seen it attributed to others?!

  3. Mark Godfrey says:

    I think he’ll get til Xmas to sort it out. It’s hard to knit so many signings together in such a short space of time. And many of these signings are not going to dig them out of trouble. One area of the team hasn’t been addressed well enough. If Anton Ferdinand is getting a regular game then you know the defence isn’t good enough. As for Hughes, i admired him as a player but can’t stand him as a manager.

    1. James Bruce says:

      Warnock had 17 points when he was axed in January I would be interested to know if Fernandes has a minimum points total in mind for Jan this season. Totally agree with that last sentence.

  4. Fulhamjim says:

    I think Hughes is doing a brilliant job. ;o)
    He had my team in the bottom three at xmas until a players’ revolt, insisting we went back to playing the way Hodgson had us playing. A climb up the table and 7th place finish followed, before Leslie decided to leave, citing his infamous “ambition”. Cue another bunch of mugs believing his self-generated hype. I bet Al Fayed is laughing his a**e off, we get Martin Jol, you get Leslie “Chequebook” Hughes & his 8 mates!!! Suckerssss

    1. Zeno says:

      Don’t forget we managed to nick a decent fee off the idiot for a very average striker in Zamora and he took sick note on a free. Wonder if he wants to sure up the Ha Ha’s defence with the international pedigree of Haliche in the next window? Shall we start the bidding at £7.5m?

  5. Lee Wiffen says:

    Really insightful and well researched piece. I have the same feeling about the current administration as when Chris Wright owned the club. He was also a fan and in awe of his footballing heroes, so much so that he could not see the wood for the trees. Gerry Francis after Rioch and Houston took full advantage of Mr Wrights bank balance, leaving the club in a mess.

    I think Fernandes is suffering a false loyalty, whilst possibly looking at the sacking clause more than likely agreed by Hughes’ talented agent Kia Joorachbian upon his appointment. He is also only looking as far as the end of his nose, and needs to cut his losses quickly with Hughes and find a manager who has a heart rather than just an ego.
    Anyone who has played can be dispassionate about poor coaching and team selection and make better judgements that Mr Fernades. They would have been looking to lose Hughes after the Reading debacle in the League cup. His coaching staff, because it is they that set up the team, failed to deal with the weaknesss of Clint Hill prior to the losses against West Ham and WBA. The experienced managers Allardyce and Clarke took full advantage of Hills lack of pace to create opportunities from that flank. Any manager worth there salt would have remedied that weakness after the Reading loss. However the faceless Hughes continued to bemoan luck as the issue.
    Sometimes in my bleaker moment I question the motives of Hughes and Joorachbian as a fire sale would be a great way of owning a club…but then I realise that Mr Hughes is probably not sufficiently astute to go that route. Mr Joorachbian on the other hand?

    1. Matt says:

      The combination of director of football Rigg and Hughes should worry Rangers fans greatly with Kia Joorabchian looming in the shadows. It would certainly explain the scatter gun approach to transfers over the summer. Joorabchian had a great deal of influence on transfers at Man City working with Rigg and Hughes and you can’t help feeling the same could be happening again with an inexperienced owner. Hughes left Fulham over a stated lack of ambition, that seemed to relate to the lack of transfers he was allowed to bring in. Dembele cost over £5m but was on the Fulham radar a year before Hughes arrived. Other player purchases seem to have been restricted (sensibly when you look at the failure of players he did bring in) and that I think could be down to the lack of trust the wily Al Fayed and CEO Alistair Mcintosh had in Hughes’ relationship with Joorabchian, who is not even licensed as an agent. Conversely Funds were released to Martin Jol as soon as he joined. There were reports that Villa, who were in desperate need of a manager at the time Hughes left Fulham refused to consider Hughes because of that relationship.

      1. Lee Wiffen says:

        The Tevez Mascherano debacle was the creation of Joorachbian. When I saw him in the Range Rover alongside Hughes during negotiations my heart sank. At least Briatore, Ecclestone and paladini were honest in their intent

        1. Matt says:

          Joorabchian is in my opinion a poison in football. His involvement in Corinthians and third party ownership of players should be warning enough and you would have to wonder why Hughes continues to keep such close links to him. I’m no fan of Hughes as a manager, his record in club football is poor, he is known to be aloof and distant from the players. On arrival at Fulham his first demand was to have the size of his office at the training ground increased. Now Motspur Park Training Ground is a modern, admired facility which has had plenty of investment (without the OTT luxury of CFC’s Cobham facility). The old office was not exactly small and was good enough for Hodgson amongst others. But not for Hughes (who admittedly spent most of the day in it, rather than the training pitches). But the biggest worry for QPR shouldn’t be his arrogance or ability, more the way he has managed to fill the staff positions both below and above him at the club with his close associates leaving very little control and therefore the door open to Joorabchian to do what he does best. Which seems to be making as much money as he can for himself, whatever the consequences to the Club.

  6. Stan Drews says:

    An excellent piece and one that highlights Hughes’ many faults.

    One of the many reasons I have more respect for players like Zamora. They no their limits and so say they won’t go into management.

    1. Stan Drews says:

      Know their limits of course not no!!

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