What will Mark Hughes bring to the Britannia Stadium?

On Tuesday May 21st Stoke City sacked Tony Pulis, following a total of nine years at the club in two separate spells. Nine days later they revealed Mark Hughes was to take over as manager.

Hughes has managed six teams since he took charge of Wales in September 1999, averaging a win percentage of 35%. Hughes’s most recent job, at QPR, was his worst, and has severely damaged his reputation. But does the Welshman deserve this reputation?

The 49-year-old took over Wales during  a very poor spell, and he did well as manager; almost leading them to qualification for Euro 2004, towards the end of his reign. He then left Wales and joined Blackburn. Over the next four years Blackburn earned a reputation as bully boys (much like Stoke in recent years) and finished bottom of the disciplinary table every season he was there. Rovers did, however, gain a lot of success from Hughes time in charge; reaching a League Cup semi-final, two FA Cup semi-finals, the UEFA Cup round of 32. On top of this, they surprised many in the league, his job when he joined Blackburn was to avoid relegation however, they finished 15th, 6th, 10th and 7th during his time in charge.

In June 2008 Hughes took over up-and-coming Manchester City. With stars such as Robinho and Elano, City drastically under-performed, finishing tenth. They started the 2009/10 season impressively but then went on a run of only two wins in 11 games, in December 2009 Hughes was sacked. City were in a slump, but still sat in a respectable sixth place. Although a lot of money was spent on the squad, perhaps the sacking was harsh.

Hughes started managing Fulham in the summer of 2010 after the Cottagers had reached the Europa League Final under Roy Hodgson. Hughes guided them to a fairly good finish of eighth and they qualified for the Europa League through UEFA’s Fairplay ruling. Hughes resigned on June 2nd, after less than 11 months at Fulham, claiming the club had a lack of ambition – another successful spell.

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In January 2012 QPR announced Hughes as their new manager. Rangers were 17th in the table and finished the season in the same position, one point clear of relegation. This is not where a squad such as the one they had should be finishing, but worse was yet to come. On 23 November QPR sacked Hughes, QPR were bottom of the table and without a win. A team with likes of Julio Cesar shouldn’t have finished near the foot of the table, so the sacking was very much deserved.

It is my belief that Hughes has an unfair reputation, which is built almost solely on his failure at QPR. Although Harry Redknapp is overrated he failed even more tragically at QPR than Hughes did, and he’s a highly respected manager. Hughes has achieved success at every other team he’s managed and, although City wasn’t a huge achievement, they only finished one place higher under Mancini at the end of the season.

Tactics

The most similar side to the current Stoke team is the Blackburn team Hughes controlled, which was by far his most successful spell in management.

Stoke are know for their bullish, often dirty, way of playing and this season finished bottom of the discipline table; with 78 yellow and four red cards.

Hughes has cleared out the back room staff and replaced them with his own, trusted, colleagues. This could mean a change in the way Stoke play.

However, Hughes said “I can only take the club forward how I know and my philosophy is always to play football, good football, create chances and make it entertaining for the fans who pay good money to come and see us. That is what I will try to do. That is what I have always tried to do.”

I personally think this untrue. When he was at Blackburn they played poor football, and he’d be mad to try to do it at Stoke. They have some players who have the attributes to play a pleasing style of football (Matthew Etherington and Charlie Adam spring to mind) but their squad in general is built to play a physical, long-ball game, and the side doesn’t have the budget to change that.

Perhaps they could change the set-up over time but this would mean a long term project, and that is a limited luxury in football. If Hughes tries to change Stoke too quickly he will fail, if he can get his side to play as well as he got Blackburn to then he’ll be a raving success. The most sensible option would be to essentially keep it the same and make a couple of sensible signings. If it doesn’t go well then they can gradually change it to the way Hughes insists he’s always had his clubs playing, these things can’t happen overnight, however.

Stoke fans should not park a van outside the Britannia with “Hughes out” on it, he has proved he’s a good manager and the Stoke squad is nothing like that he failed with at QPR, give him a chance.

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