Belfast Telegraph

Aaron Hughes still Craven Fulham glory days

Aaron Hughes has been through more managerial changes than he cares to remember.

The Northern Ireland captain worked under four big names — Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Bobby Robson and Graeme Souness — while at Newcastle United.

David O’Leary took him to Aston Villa, before Martin O’Neill sold him to Fulham two years later.

He’s now onto his third manager at Craven Cottage, after Roy Hodgson — who replaced Hughes’ former international boss Lawrie Sanchez beside the Thames — left Fulham for Liverpool in the summer.

Namesake Mark Hughes is now calling the shots and he can boast a special achievement as the former Manchester United striker goes up against his old club tomorrow.

Of all the players who have gone from working under Sir Alex Ferguson to taking him on as a manager, Hughes is the only one yet to get the better of his old boss — during his days at Blackburn Rovers — and Hughes the manager and Hughes the player would love that to be repeated at Craven Cottage this time having beaten United 2-0 last season.

Hodgson masterminded that triumph, but Cookstown-man Hughes is looking forward with his new boss rather than back to what the old one achieved — even if he is still getting over the Europa League final defeat at the hands of Atletico Madrid in May.

“Not too many of us have had the chance to speak to him (Hodgson) since he moved to Liverpool ,but obviously everyone here wishes him the best. I’m sure he’ll do a fantastic job up there,” said Hughes.

“I think his (Mark Hughes) approach has been good ever since he arrived.

“Obviously we’ve been doing well these last couple of years so we don’t want to change everything, but there are little things that he thinks he can introduce to improve the side.

“I’ve been impressed with how training has been and what he’s been trying to do, so hopefully we can keep moving forward.”

It was no surprise that a bigger club came looking for Hodgson. He lifted Fulham from the doom of being relegation battlers to a team that made Europe sit up and take notice.

They beat the likes of Juventus on their way to the Europa League final, but came up against an in-form Diego Forlan, who scored both extra-time goals for Atletico before going on to be voted the best player at the World Cup.

“Last season was an exceptional season,” said Hughes.

“I wouldn’t call it a one-off as I’d like to think it could happen again, but it doesn’t come along very often.

“It’ll stand out in the memories of a lot of people for a long time.

“It was the first time I’d played in a final like that.

“I still haven’t got over it to be honest. Every time I see something that reminds me of it I still get that sick feeling.

“Once we get over that horrible feeling that we lost it, it will be something we can be incredibly proud of.

“Getting to a European Final doesn’t happen very often, but we enjoyed it and we’ve got good memories of it.

“You look at the World Cup Final and Spain scored three minutes from the end of extra time. It happens and that was us three months ago, so we know how it feels.

“I’m sure all the lads will get over it in time and when it settles down it will be something to be really proud of.”

The challenge for Hughes and his Fulham team-mates — who include his Northern Ireland colleague Chris Baird — is to get back into Europe.

Being sacked in the middle of last season meant that Mark Hughes didn’t get any of the credit for Manchester City qualifying for this season’s Europa League, but his reputation is still very

much intact and he will be desperate to prove that he is capable of leading teams into Europe.

“It will be hard to better last season, it’s a different challenge that lies ahead — obviously we’re not in Europe, so the league is the main priority,” said Aaron, who will again form a solid backline with Brede Hangeland this season.

“I think the aim has to be another solid league finish. We’d be very happy with that.

“A successful season for us again would be to finish in the top ten. To do that would be a great achievement and I think that’s the case every year.

“We’ve got to look to do what we did the season before and be in that mid-table region for a good, solid finish.

“If we can get anything higher than the top ten then that would be fantastic.

“We know what’s brought us success over the last couple of years and what works for us.”

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