Belfast Telegraph

Mark Hughes ready to build at QPR

By Martin Hardy

If there is a starting point for Mark Hughes' reign at Queen's Park Rangers, it is in the level of control that he will be afforded.

Lower the eyebrows at a return to management for a relegation fight, forget QPR's recent history of upheaval and under-achievement. Mark Hughes is back in management because he has the chance to mould a football club in his image; an old-fashioned ideology perhaps, but one that was too good to turn down.

Only recently, in his admission about the devastation he felt at leaving Manchester City just over two years ago, Hughes offered this: "I compromised myself by allowing things to happen that I was not comfortable with.

"There were certain things I wasn't comfortable with and I allowed them to happen under my watch. The way it was sold to me was that I was still in charge of football things, but I'm presented with this dotted line, shown all sorts of charts and I thought, 'What the hell's all this?' I have an understanding of business and business models, but sometimes, really, it's about your relationships with people.

"Bringing in all these business people and business consultants to tell people what to do, and how to structure their club, wasn't right, but it was my own fault because I allowed it to happen. At the time I just wanted the club to succeed and you could see that the train was going in the right direction."

That is where the reasoning for a man who left Fulham seven months ago after finishing in the top 10 of the Premier League and took over as Neil Warnock's successor yesterday should begin. It is easy to forget the ascendancy of Hughes' career before he moved to Manchester City, before Sheikh Mansour took over and before the blue half of Manchester exploded.

Hughes had led Blackburn Rovers to European competition. He spoke of ambition when he left Ewood Park, but unwittingly walked into an avalanche of it on joining City. It is sometimes forgotten that it was Thaksin Shinawatra who was in control when Hughes was appointed in 2008. A football club changed its ambitions, its owners and its identity on Hughes' watch and for a man who was at Manchester United for 15 years, having power wrestled from the manager's office was never a prospect that he would be able to stomach. Perhaps the signing of Robinho on transfer-deadline day in August 2008 gave the greatest indication that Hughes had been usurped in the desire for a marquee signing. It would be unlikely for such an event to transpire during his latest managerial role.

This time the canvas presented before the 48-year-old by QPR owner Tony Fernandes has been left blank. The instruction is clear; stay up this year with investment in the current transfer window and then push for the top 10 next season when there will be the entire summer to show full intent in the transfer market.

That of course appeals. Hughes is no fool. He needs to strengthen his squad, and he will be given the finance to attract more players of the calibre of Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips, who were late signals of intent after the club had been taken over by Fernandes last summer.

But in building a football club there is a real, genuine attraction. In putting in place an infrastructure for two owners who have said all the right things about their combined ambition, there has been real desire from Hughes. He will revamp the club's scouting and youth set-up. There will be an increased use of sports science and the belief is that his profile will make the summer rebuilding at Loftus Road easier. The targeted players will be higher and the target from the owners will be as well.

Hughes agreed a two-and-a-half year contract and he will need that amount of time to push for the Premier League's second tier that is beginning to form underneath City, United, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. That is the size of the ambition within the boardroom at Loftus Road, and this is perhaps the greatest contrast to the situation that Hughes walked away from at Craven Cottage. Then, after an eighth-placed finish, Hughes was rebuffed in his attempts to kick on in the transfer market. It did not make sense. As a result, he walked, ill-prepared to tread water.

Those that have played for Hughes talk of a meticulous attention to detail, of the strength of the working quartet he forms along with Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kevin Hitchcock, who have all joined him at Rangers.

"Mark was very thorough in everything he did," said Shay Given, who signed for Hughes at City. "Training was very sharp and match-orientated. We didn't train long but it was very intense. He wanted high intensity. Players really had to work hard in training just like they would play in games. He didn't leave any stone unturned in his preparation.

"I got on well with him. I enjoyed my time with Mark and the backroom staff. They work well as a team. They're comfortable working for each other. He has people he can trust around him. I worked with Kevin Hitchcock who is a great coach and there is Eddie and Mark as well. They're a really good team. They bounce off each other. That is why they have been successful.

"Mark Hughes covers all to be honest; both sports science and video analysis that big clubs would need. He's very thorough. I'm sure he'll do the same at QPR. They will be extremely well prepared.

"You respected him as a person and a manager because of what he did in the game and achieved as a manager," Given added. "You can see the clubs he's been at have been a success in the sense they've gone on from where they've been. Players want to play for him.

"He has that respect and aura and you could approach him if you wanted to. It was a mutual respect between him and the players. I think he will do well at QPR. He's ambitious. If the owners are going to invest in the team, he would have asked the questions about who he can bring in. He does want to do well. That is one of the reasons he left Fulham. He wants to progress QPR to be a club settled in the Premier League. If they do invest in three or four players, other teams will be looking over their shoulders."

As may one or two managers. Hughes is back, and do not let Rangers' recent history undermine the size of his ambition.

Belfast Telegraph


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