Belfast Telegraph

Mark Hughes: Things are better with Alex Ferguson

It would have been one of the last things on Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour's mind at the time, but a happy if unexpected consequence of his decision to sack Mark Hughes last December has been a thawing of relations between the former Wales manager and the man he used to call boss, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Relations between the two had been little more than cordial since Hughes agreed to take the vacant job at Blackburn Rovers in 2004, following a five-year spell in charge of the Welsh national team.

The pair had shown plenty of respect to one another, but their relationship was restricted to a swift handshake before and after games involving their clubs, followed by a brief chat over a swift glass of wine after the match.

Ferguson has in the past described himself as a “granddad” in terms of his relations to his former players-turned-managers but whereas there has been genuine affection shown towards the likes of Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Roy Keane, the emotions seemed colder towards Hughes, who as a player had coined the phrase “the hairdryer” to describe the United manager's habit of bawling in his players' faces.

Hughes was not in the habit of ringing up his old boss for advice, or just a natter. Things deteriorated when Hughes turned up closer to home in June 2008 at Manchester City, and the pair were pitched into direct neighbourly confrontation.

Relations were often hostile, not least last December when Ferguson was asked whether Hughes had ever struck him as managerial potential during his time at Old Trafford as a player. Ferguson replied: “Nobody here thought Mark Hughes would become a manager, never in a million years.”

Ten days later, Hughes was sacked by City's impatient owners and one of the first to ring up and offer consolation was Ferguson. The United manager then went on the record a few days later to describe City's actions as “unacceptable behaviour”.

Hughes now prepares to host the old man again tomorrow, in what will be his first competitive game in charge at his new home Fulham. Ferguson's gesture of support last December has not been forgotten.

“That was very gratefully received. I have never been one of his ex-players cum managers that have really sought a lot of advice from him, but I have had key conversations with him and obviously that was one of them,” Hughes said yesterday.

“I know there's a pool of knowledge that I can tap into if I ever need to.

“I have not done in recent times, but that's not through lack of respect at what he can offer, it's just that I have not felt the need to do that.

“But the fact that he was very quickly on the phone after the Manchester City situation is something that I'm very conscious of, and was very grateful for at that time,” the former United striker added.

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