Ever since Tony Pulis was sacked as manager of Stoke, speculation has mounted over who would take over the reins of the club. Various names were mentioned from Roberto Martinez to Gus Poyet to Roberto Di Matteo, all of which would have been welcomed gladly by the fans at the Britannica. But it’s the appointment of former Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham and QPR boss Mark Hughes that has caused a much public uproar with the fans, one that is not likely to die down anytime soon.
Hughes joins the club on a three year contract only six months after being sacked at QPR for failing in his mission to steer them towards a mid table finish. He was heavily critized by the press for his multitude of signings, lack of tactical direction and ultimately poor results on the pitch. With a win rate of only 20% during his time at QPR (eight wins in 34 games), Hughes will struggle to argue that his time at Loftus Road was successful but will be out to prove at Stoke that he is not as bad a manager as many expect he is.
Hughes may have a job on his hands to do so. Apart from his time at Blackburn and a few months at Fulham, his club management career has been anything but spectacular. After some success at Blackburn, he moved to Manchester City and took on the challenge of revolutionizing the club using the millions given to him from the clubs new Saudi billionaire owners. Expensive signings like Roque Santa Cruz, Robinho, Jo and Kolo Toure turned into expensive flops as Hughes repeatedly paid over the odds for players. With investment of that nature came expected success and after Hughes failed to deliver, he was dismissed from the project.
Fulham offered him a route back into the game and he repaid them with an eighth place finish. Surprisingly he left in the summer without real explanation but rumours persist that he was not going to receive the financial backing he wanted for the next season. Unfortunately for Hughes, over spending appears to be his biggest problem, constantly spending the entire budget at the clubs disposal to bring in a variety of new faces. Last summer, Hughes brought in 12 players to QPR, all on large wages and without little thought to how they would gel together or how long it would take. They failed to do so quickly enough and by the time Hughes was sacked, the damage was already too serve for recovery to be possible for Harry Redknapp. Hughes will be given money to spend at Stoke but Chairman Peter Coates will prefer that he develops and uses the clubs youth system as a new production line for players as the club takes on a new direction to secure itself for the future.
Hughes used the Stoke announcement of his appointment as a platform to try and set the record straight. He talked candidly about his time at QPR and the negative press he received following his dismissal:
I have listened to what people have said about my managerial ability and I can assure you I will use that as a motivation. If I am honest, we all tried to run there before we could walk. That was the mistake that we made. I made mistakes I will learn from. ‘I’m absolutely delighted to get the opportunity (at Stoke). I’m really grateful.
Ultimately it was owner Peter Coates that made the decision to go for Hughes, admitting that whilst there were other candidates, Hughes was the one he wanted and the only one interviewed for the job:
“We had other interest, but we’ve only interviewed Mark. We focused on him, he was our choice. We went for it and it’s happened. The way we’ve looked at his time at QPR, they had new ownership. All the managers they had are exceptionally fine – Neil Warnock, Mark, Harry Redknapp – pretty solid, very good managers, but all found it difficult. In Mark’s first year at QPR, he came in and saved them from the relegation. That’s how we’ve seen his time there. We want, like everyone, to get better and move forward and we think Mark is the right person to do that.”
Coates may be happy with the appointment but the fans are anything but. Football phone in shows have been flooded with calls from angry Stoke fans over the past few days as the news filtered out that Hughes was going to be appointed. One fan even took to the streets, creating a Hughes Out sign attached to his truck, in protest of the choice of new manager. Supporters club chairman Shaw commented that Hughes wouldn’t have been the fans first choice due to his poor track record but as always the fans will back the club and hope that Hughes can prove them wrong. With everything to lose and his reputation on the line, let’s hope that Hughes has learned from his past mistakes, stays clear of radical squad overhauls and gets Stoke and his career back on track.