Mark hughes denies he's leaving for Aston Villa
Mark hughes exercised the break clause in his two-year Fulham contract last night to pave the way for an expected move to Aston Villa.
Hughes, who had been in charge at Fulham for just nine months, then insisted the decision was unrelated to any potential move to Villa and denied that any contact had taken place between him or his agent Kia Joorabchian and Villa.
That statement was treated with a fair degree of cynicism by many with a stake in this summer's managerial merry-go-round.
'Sparky' had the break clause written into his deal when joining Fulham last summer because the club would not match the wages paid to him in his previous job at Manchester City.
He gambled on having a sufficiently decent season that he would be able to walk away this summer for a bigger job - a gamble that has paid off.
Hughes has always been a slightly awkward fit at Fulham despite eventually taking the club to an eighth place finish and a spot in the Europa League via the Fair Play table.
Last summer he had misgivings about the difficult task of following Roy Hodgson's success in reaching the Europa League final and did not relocate his family when he took the Fulham job.
He would have much preferred the Villa job last summer but the timing of Martin O'Neill's abrupt departure came when he had already signed a contract at Craven Cottage.
In the last two weeks, Fulham had attempted to persuade Hughes to sign a new contract but had come to realise that was a hopeless task as it became obvious that Gerard Houllier would not be able to continue at Villa.
Despite its relatively small size, Fulham remains an attractive club which has established itself in the Premier League.
Hughes' departure means that Fulham must now begin the search for a new manager with O'Neill, Carlo Ancelotti, Alan Curbishley, Claudio Ranieri, Martin Jol and Steve McClaren all in the frame.
The former Fulham midfielder Lee Clark, now Huddersfield Town manager, who missed out on promotion to the Championship in the League One play-off final last month is an outside bet for the job.
Houllier's admission that medical tests had shown he would not be fit to manage Villa until September prompted the club to seek a way out of their deal with the Frenchman on Wednesday.
As it became clear over the last two months that he would not be able to resume duties this summer they were forced to examine their options elsewhere.
Hughes yesterday attempted to convince Fulham supporters that there was no other motive in his decision to leave.
He said: "I hope the supporters and all those connected with the club will understand I wish to move on
"I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify that neither myself nor my representative have approached or have been approached by another club. This decision to leave Fulham has not been influenced by any outside party.
He added: "I would like to thank the chairman, directors, players and fans of Fulham Football Club for their support over the last 12 months and wish them every success in the future.
"I believe my management team and I have done a good job and the club has a strong foundation from which they can go forward."
Meanwhile, as well as Hughes, former Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti is believed to be high on Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner's list of preferred options to replace Houllier as manager.
Villa are drawing up a short list, also likely to include Hughes and Everton's David Moyes, after Houllier's nine-month reign ended because of concerns over his health. Lerner would have to convince Ancelotti that Villa match his own ambitions and can mount a serious challenge for Champions League football.
Villa may also find Ancelotti's wage demands could be a stumbling block after reportedly earning around £5m last season at Chelsea.
He has been linked with a move to newly-promoted QPR should they dispense with boss Neil Warnock.
A source close to Villa said: "The club are aware of the need to bring in the right man with the right pedigree.
"But they are also aware of the important of giving him time to make his mark before the new season after last summer."