Negativity surrounds Hughes but he can succeed at Stoke
By Oliver Wilson
Stoke City lost a great manager at the end of this season. While many may not like the style of football that Tony Pulis brought to the Britannia during his eight-year spell in charge of the club, few can argue that what the little known manager did with a struggling Championship side and turning it into a established, mid-table, Premier League club is one of modern football's great success stories.
Arguably, the peak of their success under Pulis was their trip to Valencia in the knockout rounds of the Europa League or, of course, their incredible journey to the FA Cup final that gave them that Europa League birth. Die-hard Potters fans, though, will be able to pinpoint many more moments that have brought a tear to their eyes and all will surely give a moments thought to the man responsible for the most successful period in the club’s history.
Now, though, a new chapter has begun in the history books of the Potters with Tony Pulis and the club he enjoyed two spells at, parting ways for a second, and we assume, final time. Who though could be the man to take over the role? Who would be able to walk in Tony’s shoes and epitomize the style and attitude of a whole football club in their character and mannerisms?
Enter Mark Hughes.
A hero to Manchester United fans, the manager of Manchester City as the money come rolling in, a former coach of his national side, Wales, and a footballer who played over 600 games across Europe during a career that spanned over 20 years. To say Mark Hughes has seen almost everything in football would not be an understatement.
He won 15 pieces of silverware before entering management with the Welsh national team and took them as close as they’ve been to a World Cup Finals tournament, losing to Russia in a qualification playoff. Things started well for the man affectionately known as Sparky, so why were some Stoke fans already preparing their ‘Hughes Out’ banners before their new manager had even signed on the dotted line this week?
Perhaps it’s to do with the dysfunctional departure he made from Fulham after just 11-months at the club. While his time in the Putney area continued the solid progress made by Roy Hodgson, after the former Inter Milan manager pulled off a miracle relegation survival chase in 2008, many of the Craven Cottage faithful still remember their former manager as the man who thought he was bigger then the club.
“As a young, ambitious manager I wish to move on to further my experiences,” were Hughes’ departing worlds as he left South London.
“I believe my management team and I have done a good job and the club has a strong foundation from which they can go forward.”
Fulham finished 8th at the end of the 2010/11 Premier League season as Hughes walked out of the door, but few remember him fondly, interpreting his desire to move away from the club that had just offered him a contract extension, as a knock against their side’s heritage and stature. Even the eccentric Mohamed Al-Fayed had few pleasant parting words for the Welshman, saying he saved Hughes from becoming a forgotten man after being cast out by Manchester City and describing him as a “flop” and a “strange man.”
Some in the Potteries may wonder if Hughes will take a similar attitude to their proud side, with Fulham in their current form, appearing to be a far more stable and aesthetically pleasing side to watch compared to a side renowned for the long ball game, big powerful strikers, crunching defenders and who almost became embroiled in the fight for Premier League survival this season.
Hughes also faces his critics when it comes to his demeanor and personality in the game. Potters fans are having trouble working out just who is the man taking control of a side that has been so at peace with their previous manager for so long.
It appears harsh but it’s a valid point. Hughes is renown for being clam but firm with the media. He doesn’t give too much way with the press and rarely do we hear of him being involved in training ground bust-ups or overly aggressive halftime team talks. Who is Mark Hughes? His playing style has been mixed and varied depending on where he’s managed, with his time at Blackburn Rovers producing, arguably, the most attractive football of his managerial career, while his spell at Manchester City, and the disastrous few months at Queens Park Rangers, brought disjointed and disappointing performances with sides that lacked team chemistry and that certain je ne sais quoi that befall a side that’s been tinkered and tampered with too often. His last two roles at QPR and Fulham lasted a mere 21-months in total, giving football fans the opportunity to forget exactly what a side playing ‘Mark Hughes’ football actually looks like.
The unknown is always scary, and the bitter taste left by the fallout in Fulham and the failure at Loftus Road mean that football’s most recent memories of Sparky are not good.
Stoke has lost an iconic manager this season and replaced it with an unknown entity. Tony Pulis’ departure was seen as an opportunity for Stoke to move away from the long ball, set piece play that has helped to cement them in England’s top flight – helping them to become one of the most disliked clubs for the neutral viewer in English football – and instead become a more attractive and marketable side to the Premier League’s global audience. Some liked this, others were happy to keep a man whose character and style of football embodied the attitude of the area; work hard, fight to the end, and don’t worry about what others think. Just get the job done.
Hughes has been given a tough task to move a now struggling side to the next level in the Premier League, while his doubters – and Pulis’ faithful followers – have no idea how a man who appears so insipid can spark the revolution needed to bring new life to Tony’s side. Those doubters, though, should remember the job he did with Blackburn, taking them to three cup semifinals and hoisting them into the Europa League, or the way he helped to cultivate the now blossoming Mousa Dembélé at Craven Cottage.
Taking over from Stoke City’s equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson wont be easy, but Hughes has a clean canvas, a whole summer and a club with deep pockets. Let the change begin.