A Welshman. An Academy product. A man who has played under Sir Alex Ferguson. A man who knows the club. A man who has managed in the Premier League. A man who has played abroad for the biggest clubs in the world.
Step forward Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes.
In the same way we’re linked with Messi or Sneijder each transfer window and we invariably sign players like Memphis or Schneiderlin, I think the managerial appointment will go the same way. When we sacked Moyes, we were again linked with Jose, Pep, Ancelotti, Klopp too, as well as Solskjaer, Blanc and Laudrup. We got LVG. He wasn’t even in the frame until it was basically known he was getting the job. So while Mourinho is a very possible candidate, I’ve already written about him and I can’t be arsed covering that ground. I want to explore some other possibilities. I’ve got to credit my Dad with the seed of Mark Hughes. He’s brought it up 3 or 4 times, pretty much every time I’ve seen him, over Christmas.
The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. There’s no perfect candidate out there. No one is qualified for this job. Jose has his issues with being a complete and utter cunt, plus his disregard for youth. Pep hasn’t ever shown capability to build a side, or the stomach for a fight. Carlo is off to Munich. Simeone can’t speak English and hasn’t managed in the Premier League. Giggs has no experience. Whoever else is flavour of the week will be lacking in some area – so what’s left? Whoever is appointed is an enormous gamble.
This is a judgement call and a gut feeling kind of thing. There’s several factors we need to consider. Let’s get stuck into them.
Connection; As I mentioned in the above. Hughesy is a Manchester United icon. I don’t like legend, it’s overused. But Sparky, is an iconic player for us. 9th in the all-time goalscorer list. 163 goals in 467 games for the club from 83-95, with spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich in between. Something a lot of fans seem to really want and place a lot of importance on someone ‘knowing’ the club.
He’s an academy graduate. Or youth player, if you prefer, as he was pre-academy days. So not only does he know the club, he knows what it’s like to come through the ranks here. So he gets a big tick in the box here. 1/1.
Playing Style; Hughes is direct. Very Fergie-esque in this manner. At all his teams, he’s played football on the floor, but with a purpose. A lot of emphasis will be placed upon style in the post Van Gaal era. Hughes transformed a team known ONLY for it’s direct and so called ‘anti-football’ style into a pretty nice footballing side. 2/2.
Experience; We’ve already mentioned his experience with United, but he’s also been a Premier League manager for over a decade, too. His spell at Blackburn will be considered best. Maybe this current run with Stoke, too. He averages a win percentage of around 40% – enough to get you sacked if you manage a top club, but at the level of clubs Hughes has managed, City (around the time the money came in, but still mid table), Fulham, QPR, Blackburn and now Stoke City, this is an excellent record. He has over achieved with each of these and in a short time stamped his authority on them and had them playing no nonsense attacking football. His job with Blackburn was to avoid relegation, but he took them to top six and an FA Cup Semi. 3/3
Pedigree; No denying this one. Hughes has not managed a big club. Nor has he managed in the Champions League. But he did take City to the quarters in the UEFA Cup and Blackburn to the round of 32. Half a point. 3.5/4
Signings; Besides QPR, which is inexplicable in many senses, his signings have been pretty good. McCarthy, Bentley, Santa Cruz, Samba all performed excellently under Hughes. He brought the current City captain Vincent Kompany while he was in charge there, as well as Zabaleta. These being the stand-outs, but he’s also had some questionable ones, too. Anyone signing Bellamy AND Tevez to explain themselves. With a decent budget, I would be intrigued to see what he can do. Taking Shaqiri from Inter Milan to Stoke is a masterstroke, so half a point here. 4/5
Youth; This is the one that I have struggled to find much data on. The data I can find puts him pretty low down on the list for granting debuts. In (slight) mitigation for this I will state that all of his sides have been that of the strugglers and clubs not known for producing talent, too. With a greater pool of young talent available, who knows. Nil points. 4/6
So Sparky gets a 4/6 on the above criteria. Enough for me to want to take a risk with him? Not sure. Probably not. But the bottom line is with any appointment, we simply don’t know. There are no guarantees in football. Or any sport. To say different to to completely misunderstand sport. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do, how you prepare, who’s in charge or anything else. Sometimes it’s down to luck, sometimes the other guy/team was just better than you. People often forget that there’s two teams in games. Or twenty teams in the league. Even if Sir Alex came back to steady the ship until a summer appointment (should LVG be sacked soon, which feels inevitable), there’s zero guarantee he would be a success. Would the players fear him like they did when he was an eternal figure? No. Would he have the desire to succeed knowing it was a short appointment? No. So he could be worse. Didn’t work out for Sir Matt when he came back in this exact scenario in between Wilf McGuinness and Frank O’Farrell’s appointments.
United fans do need to realise that the reason Sir Alex Ferguson was special is that he was able to keep us winning on a consistent basis and that we cannot expect that to return without some serious rebuilding. It cannot be done inside 12 month. You can point to Leicester all you want. They’ve been assembling these signings over a number of years. All without the pressure of being United and being in Europe. Two factors that absolutely take it’s toll on a player.
The abuse some of our ‘fans’ direct at players is absolutely sickening. We all want success. But to abuse our own is really, really sad to see. That’s the type of spoilt fan I can’t stand. The one who wants long term success, but isn’t prepared to wait for it. Whoever comes in next, they need support. We will have shit times. That’s what makes the winning so sweet.