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SPORTS
03 Jun 2011
HUGHES MUST PROVE STAYING POWER

Mark Hughes was the victim of Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook's infamous "trajectory of results" when he was shown the door at Eastlands and replaced within a matter of minutes by Roberto Mancini.

Hughes nursed an acute sense of injustice, shared by many observers inside and outside City, and public humiliation when he took charge of the 4-3 win against Sunderland in December 2009 with the word already out that his time was up as soon as the final whistle sounded.

The 47-year-old is walking away from Fulham with that same trajectory on an upward curve after a season in which he heard demands for his dismissal at Craven Cottage before a strong conclusion rebuilt his reputation and earned a place in the Europa League via the Fair Play standings.

Hughes, in a statement met with heavy cynicism, insisted his decision to activate a break clause in his two-year contract had not been prompted by the intervention of "an outside party" after Gerard Houllier left Aston Villa on health grounds only 24 hours earlier.

It may well be, though, that the bitterness Hughes felt at the manner in which he was sacked at City hardened his belief that it is every man for himself in Premier League management and if a faster train is about to pull up at the platform, he will jump aboard.

The dust has not yet settled on Villa's decision to part company with Houllier, or indeed where Hughes' next destination might be, but it is clear the Welshman believes he is on the way to bigger and better things.

In his eventful time at Eastlands, during which the Abu Dhabi riches rolled up at the door, Cook also claimed Hughes had been hit by what he described as "bowling ball syndrome" - namely when you opened a cupboard one of these painful objects landed on your head.

This was not literally true of course. Cook meant that Hughes had occasionally been underminded by events that were unexpected and beyond his control. Fulham chairman Mohamed Al Fayed must have felt like he had been hit by a 16-ton weight when it became clear his manager was leaving on Thursday.

Hughes may well be, in his own words, "a young ambitious manager" but he is now getting a reputation as a nomadic one. He is leaving Fulham after spells in charge of Wales, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City and now a new home. Whether this is Villa Park remains to be seen, with sources in the Midlands insisting owner Randy Lerner wants to explore the possibility of landing sacked former Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti before committing himself to any move for Hughes.

It is tough on Fulham, who stood by Hughes amid the early turmoil and who lost Roy Hodgson to Liverpool this time last year. Chief executive Alistair Mackintosh, who worked with Hughes at City, runs a tight ship but there is no doubt Hughes' departure will come as a destabilising blow.

And it takes quite a leap of the imagination to believe Hughes has burned his boats so comprehensively at Craven Cottage without being certain another post would present itself in the very near future.

Hughes and his trusted team of right-hand man Mark Bowen, Kevin Hitchcock and Eddie Niedzwiecki have proved to be an effective and tight-knit unit. They have are adept at organising a team and uniting a dressing room - which may prove a key element if they do take over at Villa after the public disharmony of the Houllier era.

Villa is also a team in danger of seeing important elements breaking up, with England pair Ashley Young and Stewart Downing hinting strongly they may see their future elsewhere. This will be a top priority on the agenda of their new manager and a crucial early test.

It will need a powerful character, a criteria Hughes fulfils perfectly but credentials also high on Ancelotti's CV after a coaching career managing high-profile personalities on the pitch and in the boardroom.

Lerner will make his choice carefully after being caught out by O'Neill's departure just days before the start of last season and the turbulence of Houllier's tenure that was eventually ended after he suffered heart problems. Hughes has to serve a month's notice under the terms of his contract and Lerner is certain to use that time to explore every option before alighting on his final choice.

Hughes is also under pressure once he takes his next post. He needs to demonstrate he can put down roots and show he can establish a management model and stick with it for the long-term.

His fate at Manchester City was out of his hands but he willingly walked away from Blackburn and Fulham - wherever he goes he has to show his capability to fashion a vision that he will stick with over a number of years.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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