The Mark Hughes Myth – Why Sparky Might Just Save Stoke

Mark Hughes might  just be the most underrated manager in the Premier League. This is news that will come as a surprise to a lot of people, especially those who get their footballing opinions from twitter and podcasts. The recent outpouring of disdain for Hughes after his appointment at Stoke, from fans of the club, to casual fans alike has been ridiculous in both its viciousness, and its falseness.

A glance at the managerial record of Hughes isn’t enough to really get a firm grip on the man and his success and talent as a manager, so let’s take a slightly more detailed look at his career:

Wales 1999-2004

Signed initially as a temporary coach while still playing football in 1999. Hughes took Wales to brink of Euro 2004, losing to Russia in the play-offs. Wales famously beat Italy 2-1 in October 2002 with a team including average footballers like Andy Melville, Mark Pembridge and Robbie Savage.

It took until 2010, and the appointment of Gary Speed for Wales to even begin to threaten as an international force again.

Blackburn 2004-2008

Hughes left Wales to take over at Blackburn, and he led them to safety in his first season, and also took the club to their first FA Cup semi-final in over 40 years. He followed that up the next season by finishing in the top six. In his four years at Blackburn he led them to three cup semi-finals, and to three top ten finishes in the Premier League. As well as amassing a record of 82 wins and 47 draws in 188 games at Blackburn, Hughes also showed a keen eye for transfer bargains.

Benni Mccarthy, David Bentley, Ryan Nelson, Stephen Warnock, Roque Santa Cruz and Christopher Samba were signed for a combined total of under eight million pounds, and all excelled in the Premier League under Hughes. The majority of those players were signed for a profit, with millions made on players like Bentley and Santa Cruz. Stephen Warnock and David Bentley both made England appearances while Blackburn players.

Bentley and Santa Cruz are perhaps the perfect example of the managerial nous of Hughes. Bentley was a wild card, who had been allowed to leave Arsenal for a miniscule fee. Under Hughes at Blackburn Bentley was treated with respect and care, contributing goals and assists, including a memorable hat-trick against Manchester United, making him one of just three players to ever score Premier League hat-tricks against the Red Devils.

Santa Cruz had been a jobbing striker at Bayern Munich for eight years, but it wasn’t until signing for Blackburn that he truly made a name for himself. 19 goals in his first Premier League season under Hughes was a fine example of the ability of the Welshman to accentuate the positives, and hide the weaknesses of his players.

Manchester City 2008-2009

Mark’s time at Manchester City wasn’t exactly brilliant, but he was under constant pressure from the start. In his only full season at the club, City reached the the quarterfinals of the Uefa Cup, and finished tenth in the league.

His record in the transfer market was mixed, but one can argue it must have been incredibly difficult for him to adjust to have untold millions to spend on players, after scratching and surviving with Blackburn. Hughes did bring Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and Nigel De Jong into the club, all of whom played their part a few years later when City secured the Premier League title under Mancini.

Plus, the man proved he could still hit a sweet volley.

To be fair, you would have to say that Hughes underachieved with Man City, considering some of the players he had at his disposal. His failure to get the best out of Robinho for example was perhaps an indication of what was to come at QPR. I think that Hughes works best when he is running a team that isn’t full of superstars, which will give hope to Stoke fans.

Fulham 2010-2011

His ability to get the most out of workmanlike players was exhibited perfectly in his season at Fulham. Hughes led Fulham to eighth place in the Premier League, their second best finish ever in the division. This was the season that Clint Dempsey really made his mark on the Premier League, and it seems likely that this was down to Hughes, who has a knack of getting the most out of players who have talent, but aren’t necessarily brilliant. Hughes was also the man who bought Moussa Dembele to the club, another sign of his eye for talent.

It all went wrong for Mark Hughes in the public eye when he rather acrimoniously resigned from his Fulham job in June 2011. The media, and the rest of the footballing world were convinced he would end up at Aston Villa, but instead he ended up at QPR in January 2012.

QPR 2012

The fact is, that Hughes managed to keep QPR in the Premier League in his first season with the club, and definitely deserved to be sacked from the club after starting the 2012/13 season with twelve games without a win. However, as Harry Redknapp showed when he took over QPR following the sacking of Hughes, there seems to be something at the club that will stop anybody from succeeding at that club while certain personnel stay at the club.

A lot has been spoken about of the poor signings Hughes made at QPR in association with Kia Joorabchian, but when you look at the list of signings, it’s hard to fathom exactly why the team performed so badly. Players like Samba Diakite, Junior Hoilett, Julio Cesar and Esteban Granero were established international players, while Nedum Onouha, Robert Green and Bobby Zamora were all English players with something to prove. People point to the signing of Jose Bosingwa as a particularly bad decision, but the lad had just won the Champions League, and when offered a player with plenty of European and International experience for free, it’s hard to see a reason not to take him.

One thing to look at is the record of Hughes v Redknapp during their respective times at QPR. Hughes had a win percentage of 23.53% at QPR from a total of 34 games, while Redknapp had a win percentage of 17.86% from a total of 28 games. Would Stoke fans be aghast if Redknapp took over the club, even though if the Mark Hughes era at QPR was a disaster, that would make the Redknapp era a complete catastrophe? Just a small look at the managerial record of Mark Hughes shows a man who only really failed at one club, and even that was after managing to keep them up the season prior.

hughes

Overall, I believe that Hughes could thrive at Stoke, or rather thrive as much as a team like Stoke can. There are changes that need to be made at the club in terms of players, as their system of journeyman players scrapping it out may need to be updated if they want to survive in the Premier League. If Hughes goes back to what he was doing at Blackburn and Fulham, and even Wales, and makes a team of ordinary players feel like superstars, he may just surprise everybody once again.

There is nothing wrong with being the manager of Stoke, except if you wear a baseball cap it seems. Stoke fans shouldn’t worry, they’re getting a manager who has excelled at clubs like theirs before, and providing he doesn’t go crazy and start spending crazy money on average players, it should work out for the best. Mind, it probably can’t be worse than some of the insane signings Stoke made under Pulis, spending a near 20 million on Palacios and Crouch one such example.

A football manager is now a cursed job rather than something to aspire for, and that reputation worsens when people like Mark Hughes are cast aside based on nothing more than lazy people deriding him without digging a little deeper. You have to give people a chance in this world to succeed rather than fail, and you have to hope that for every sad creature spending actual money to drive around Stoke with a ‘Hughes Out’ banner, there are plenty of other fans with a fair and honest mind who will actually wait for results to happen before they completely trash a bloke before he’s even started work.

The man they call Sparky might never reach the heights many thought he would as a manager, but there is still plenty of life in him right now.

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One thought on “The Mark Hughes Myth – Why Sparky Might Just Save Stoke

  1. Fantastic reading on my train journey home. Completetly agree – I always felt like Sparky was written off a bit easily after his sacking at QPR. He allowed us the honour of watching the famous Shefki Kuqi celebration time and time again at Blackburn…and five more times after that. Looking forward to seeing how he progresses at Stoke.

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