Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland international Aaron Hughes is still good enough for Premier League, says old pal Stephen Craigan

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland great Aaron Hughes is facing the prospect of being without a club for the first time in almost two decades — but his former international team-mate Stephen Craigan has insisted that the 35-year-old is still good enough to play in the Premier League.

In football terms Hughes will be homeless come Saturday night, following Brighton’s final game of the season, after the Championship outfit announced they were releasing the experienced defender.

The decision leaves 95-times-capped Hughes with an uncertain future, knowing that he needs to find a new club and play on a regular basis to figure in Michael O’Neill’s plans for the remainder of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and the finals themselves in France next year if all goes according to plan.

Craigan, who enjoyed a successful central defensive partnership with Hughes for several years at the highest level, said: “Aaron may be leaving a Championship club in Brighton but my genuine belief is that, such are his qualities, even now he could still play in the Premier League.”

Northern Ireland under-19 coach Craigan admitted that he was not surprised Brighton decided to let Hughes go, but that was because the Cookstown man had hardly played for the Seagulls recently rather than anything to do with him being a fading force.

"It didn't come as a shock when I heard that Brighton were releasing Aaron simply because he has not been getting any game time with them," stated ex-Motherwell hero Craigan.

"I would add that it is no coincidence Brighton have not been doing well of late without Aaron in the team.

"In my view Aaron still has great qualities. I have watched him play in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign for Northern Ireland and his awareness, game know-how, pace and ability to organise are all still there.

"He is probably the best professional I have worked with and would be an asset to any team."

The question is, which team?

Hughes has never been in this situation during his outstanding career which saw him start at Newcastle in 1996, making his debut for the Geordies a year later, aged just 18, against Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

A firm favourite at Newcastle, he moved to Aston Villa in 2005 and then joined Fulham in 2007 where he stayed until last year before signing for QPR and then Brighton. All the while he shone for Northern Ireland and is now just five caps short of a century.

Craigan added: "I know how much playing for Northern Ireland means to Aaron and he will want to challenge for a starting place but knows to do that he needs to be playing regularly.

"I am a big admirer of Paddy McNair at Manchester United who has come to the fore in the Premier League this season, but I would say that right now Aaron is a better player which leads me to believe that Aaron could still perform well in the Premier League if given the opportunity.

"We also have defenders in Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley who have consistently shown they are Premier League class. Again I feel Aaron is just as good," added Craigan, a highly respected pundit for BT Sport on Scottish football.

Belfast Telegraph


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