To the disappointment of seemingly the majority of Stoke City fans, Mark Hughes was unveiled by Peter Coates as their next manager – cue man in van with giant ‘Hughes Out’ sign. It’s not the best start to a job, and one that would horrify most and have them heading for the door – however, I have an inkling that Lesley Mark Hughes won’t care one iota.
After his debacle at QPR, his stock was at a very low level – less than a year in charge, millions spent, and the club lay bottom of the league. But I think something he said/inferred in his first press conference was very accurate: QPR were a club trying to run before they had mastered the art of walking. Neil Warnock had got them to the Premier League and then new owner Tony Fernandes had seen the bright lights, combined with the rather large wedge of cash in his pocket, and thought “we can make an impact here”.
Ask any other chairman of a recently promoted team what their target for their first season in the big league was and the majority (I would say 99% is a conservative guess) would say without hesitation: “survival”. Fernandes, I believe, aimed for the stars of top-half or even Europe, and barely left the runway. The first error was to throw so much money at the club and then remove the man, Warnock, who had got them there. Stoke need to take heed of the errors of QPR’s desire to run so soon – last season they at times tried to play football, much due to the pressure of supporters growing tired of the attrition wars and long ball, set piece football they had witnessed for the 3 or so years, but this left them trying to deliver via a style which they were not used to and arguably didn’t suit them. For this reason, I think the departure of Pulis was inevitable: he had bowed to the fans, failed (to an extent) and resorted back to the style of play which had delivered relative success, and survival.
What Mark Hughes will bring to the club is fitness, discipline and most likely an element of flair. At each of his previous three clubs he has had at least one flair player who can excite the crowd – a Pedersen, a Robinho, or a Dembele – this usually combined with a team hard to breakdown and beat has in the past allowed him to ‘rough it’ but deliver quality when required, appeasing both sets of supporters: those who want to win at all cost, and those that want to see skill and good football. At Stoke, he already has the players to get stuck in, what he needs to add is the flair.
I think that Stoke will have a relatively indifferent 2013-14 campaign and will likely finish in mid-table mediocrity, which by some may be seen as a failure. However, he needs to be given time to do it his way. You can’t turn a team of battlers in to Dutch maestros overnight. In his first season at Blackburn he kept the side up, battling, and then pushed for Europe in successive seasons afterwards. The Stoke supporters need to give him a year – if he doesn’t keep them up, fair enough, he probably deserves to get the boot; but if he does, he surely has earned the right to a second season where he will have a better ‘stamp’ on the club enabling them to better express themselves?
I think Hughes is a good manager, and QPR was just a blip, not helped by the ability to throw money at the situation. He works best when he has limits and constraints within which he must work (Blackburn, Wales, Fulham) – Stoke should give him money to spend, but not break the bank. In my personal opinion, when I saw Pulis had gone, I was running to the bookies to back them for relegation, but with Hughes at the helm, I will be holding on to my money.
Looking at the other vacancies… : –
Everton – Martinez is the strong favourite here, but he has been the favourite for a job in Merseyside before and not taken it. I think this time, he will take the job, which I think is a good opportunity for him, but big shoes to fill. They play the attractive football Martinez already likes to deploy, so this does look like a good fit.
Manchester City – Pellegrini has almost certainly got the job now, and I think other than Mourinho, he is probably the best candidate. His record at Real Madrid was brilliant, despite him not winning the title, he racked up 36 wins and a win percentage of 75%, showing he can manage and get the most out of the big stars. Secondly, he has Champions League experience, and experience of the stages past the first round groups – something Man City crave.
Chelsea – looking even more likely than Pellegrini to Manchester City, is the return of Mourinho to Chelsea. I don’t think you’ll hear many Chelsea fans complain (both due to his past success and also the fact he isn’t Benitez!), but I think his style has changed since his first stint – yes he used to shut up shop with a 1-0, but at Real, in the big games he did resort to stereotypical European theatricals, and a win at all costs attitude. Put it this way, would Moyes or Wenger put up with being poked in the eye. He’ll do the job at Chelsea, but for how long?
Wigan – losing Martinez is a big blow, and will most likely put them on a level playing field again and see them having to punch above their weight to succeed in the Championship, but if the influence of Martinez lives on and they continue the attractive football they will be okay and could push for promotion, their downfall will likely be the number of games with a smallish squad. Although Schteve McClaren is the favourite for the job, I think a better and safer appointment would be Owen Coyle.
Other Managerial Bets: –
Owen Coyle to be next Wigan Manager = 9/2
Next Everton Manager = Slaven Bilic – 50p @ 66/1; or Perreira £1 @ 9/1
Next Millwall Manager = Alex McLeish – 10/1
Next PSG Manager = Leonardo – 33/1; or Laurent Blanc 8/1