Hughes appointment a risky gambit
Published: 19.06.13 / Written by: David Gold
Mark Hughes has been appointed as Stoke manager, tasked with taking the team forward after years under the tutelage of Tony Pulis.
It is an interesting move, and one which is frought with risk. The man who made the decision, Peter Coates, is making a gamble in dispensing with Pulis in favour of Hughes, but then again this is a man who made a fortune through a betting company.
Hughes comes with a tattered reputation, having guided Queens Park Rangers in the direction of the Championship, before Harry Redknapp completed their journey there. But Hughes did a terrible job with the west Londoners, spending huge amounts of money and making signing after signing as he developed a squad lacking spirit, quality and work ethic. They were a shambles, but a well paid one at that. No wonder they went down.
Following his departure from Fulham months earlier, it was vital that Hughes did well with Queens Park Rangers. He enjoyed a competent enough season at Fulham, but then again Fulham are quite like Swansea in that they can run themselves during a transitional spell. But Hughes left, apparently because the club could not match his ambition. To then go to their inferior west London rivals was a mark that Hughes had made a mistake.
So Hughes coming in for Pulis is strange. Pulis had presided over a stagnation at Stoke after establishing them in the top flight. But his football was dull and aggressive, limited and defensive. Lacking in ambition, everyone at Stoke apart from him became sick of the way they were playing and so they moved for Hughes to take over. But Hughes is hardly renowned for playing good football. The former Blackburn boss has teams who play quite limited football as well. Attacking perhaps, but without style or conviction, elegance or class. They are also just as aggressive as Stoke usually are.
So what kind of a transition is this? Not much. Whereas Roberto Martinez has just gone from Wigan Athletic to Everton. Martinez is a man who builds teams. He laid the foundations at Swansea City for much of their current success and must continue to take credit for what they are doing at present. And then Martinez made Wigan into an entertaining team who played good football and survived in the Premier League against the odds. He outwitted leading managers such as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson last year with his 3-4-3 system which has been such a success. A tactical acumen of this sort is what marks Martinez out as an innovative, creative coach.
But as we say, he is a builder of teams, and does not need money to do so either. It was no surprise when they won the FA Cup this year. They beat Man City 1-0 and it shocked most, but then again, they had already outplayed the same team twice in the league that season, so it was hardly out of the blue.
So Stoke may wonder whether they have made the wrong choice. Could they not have gone for Martinez? Or a similarly creative foreign coach? In resorting to a run of the mill, moderate failure of a British manager, he is surely only precipitating a continuation of Stoke’s slow decline. They should heed the warning of Charlton, who experienced a similar meltdown after Alan Curbishley left them and are now in the Championship. Unless Hughes can restore his battered reputation, that is where he and Stoke are heading.