Despite being the least heralded of this summer's managerial appointments, Mark Hughes could prove to be a masterstroke.
In a summer that will see the arrival of Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, the return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea, the likely appointment of Roberto Martinez at Everton, and David Moyes’ attempt at replacing an Old Trafford legend, Mark Hughes is a bit like the kid in the corner we barely notice.
One of only two appointments to actually be in place, and already he is being lost in a haze of hyperbolic headlines.
But while Pellegrini could take City to a level unreachable under Roberto Mancini, while Mourinho could reinvigorate Chelsea and Martinez could show what he can do without the spectre of relegation, the impact Hughes could have on Stoke City shouldn’t be underestimated.
In many ways, the Welshman’s time at QPR has completely eradicated his previous managerial achievements.
That he spent rashly at Loftus Road is not in question. That he tried to do too much too soon is something he has since admitted. And the effects of his tenure will be felt for some time yet.
But while some men stubbornly stand by their convictions and see criticism as little more than a personal attack, Hughes gives the impression of being smarter than that. He has made mistakes, but those mistakes shouldn’t be blankets under which everything positive is smothered.
Hughes’ first managerial role saw him take charge of the Welsh national team in 1999. And by the time he left five years later he had sown the seeds that later managers have benefited from. Hughes’ tenure saw Wales transformed from a side slipping into international obscurity, to one that narrowly missed out on qualifying for Euro 2004 having beaten Italy in the group stage.
If that was the pre-cursor, his time at Blackburn Rovers should prove to any doubters what he can potentially achieve at the Britannia Stadium. Leading a previously-relegation-threatened club to three top 10 finishes, he also guided them to one League Cup semi-final, two FA Cup semi-finals, and a UEFA Cup campaign.
That he also led Fulham to eighth-place in his only season in charge proves that he knows how to manage mid-table sides. And while his time at Manchester City was less successful – that was in the midst of a transition the level of which has arguably never before been seen in Premier League football.
This is no Hughes love-in. I have no particular affinity to him. But those already decrying his appointment should give him time.
There will be at least six new managers in place for the start of next season. And while Mourinho’s challenge is to repeat what is now expected of him, while Pellegrini’s is to lead City to an as-yet-unreachable plain and Moyes’s to maintain a legacy, Hughes may just quietly get on with the job.
With so little attention on him, and with the lessons he has learned from both his successes and his failures, an appointment barely noticed may ultimately prove to be the best of the lot.
Do you think Hughes is the right man for Stoke City? And how far can he take the club?
image: © ronnie macdonald