Back Against The Wall: Mark Hughes Must Get Back To Basics At Stoke City.

on June 01 2013 12:26 PM
Back Against The Wall: Mark Hughes Must Get Back To Basics At Stoke City.

If Mark Hughes wasn't aware of it already, he has quite a job on his hands at Stoke City.

Appointed somewhat controversially this week, Hughes has the mammoth task of changing the entire style of play at the club whilst gaining the same results. Add to that, he must win over a fan-base who are more than a little sceptical regarding the Welshman's appointment.

An unenviable task, I'm sure you'll agree.

Yet one Hughes could ill-afford to turn down.

Despite the huge financial backing offered him at his previous club, Queens Park Rangers, 'Sparky's' time there, was largely unsuccessful. He was removed as Manager in November 2012 with the club rooted to the foot of the table, where they would remain for the rest of the season. Media-darling Harry Redknapp, Hughes' successor, shared little of the blame. Instead it was Hughes who was the scapegoat, his style of play and dealings in the transfer market coming under intense scrutiny. It was expected to be a long time before Hughes was given the responsibility of Managing a club in the top-flight again.

In the World of Football, nothing is guaranteed.

Tony Pulis left the club by 'mutual consent' and it was evident from the outset of the search who Stoke's number one target was. Hughes had been given another chance, perhaps his last, to prove his metal at the top level. The appointment has not been well received by the Stoke faithful, which should come as no surprise, given Hughes' reputation following a disastrous season at Rangers. He will have to hit the ground running and will be hoping for some favourable fixtures early-on in the season in order for some of the pressure to be relieved.

Despite his failures with big-spending clubs QPR and Manchester City, Hughes has had great success when he has managed clubs with modest means. The time he spent at Blackburn Rovers was particularly outstanding. Hughes was given little in terms of financial backing during his spell at Rovers, given the owners desire to sell the club. Hughes spent the money he had very wisely, convincing players of the calibre of Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy to the small-town club. He also unearthed more than a few gems during his reign. Players such as Chris Samba, Ryan Nelsen and David Bentley are now household names after making their name under Hughes.

Transfers aside, the accomplishments at Blackburn were sensational. They were regularly challenging for Europe, reached two F.A Cup Semi-Finals and were renowned for being one of the most competitive teams to play against in the league. Their combative, sometimes overly-aggressive style of play was, ironically, the same type of play Pulis' Stoke were famous for, which is what the club are now trying to move away from.

Even though Hughes was only at Fulham for one season before departing for what he saw as a better opportunity, he once again had some success with a team that had financial constraints. In hindsight, Hughes may have wished he'd have stayed longer at the project he was developing at Craven Cottage, given the catastrophe that followed at QPR. After some initial struggles, Hughes galvanised the players and led them to an 8th place finish. He angered chairman Mohamed Al Fayed with his contract demands at the end of the season and, with 'Advisor' Kia Joorabchian whispering in his ear, made the move to Loftus Road. So, Hughes does has form for taking unfashionable teams and making them contenders for Europe.

It is also forgotten the fine job Hughes did as Wales Manager. When you consider he had no managerial experience whatsoever, to take any National team job with that handicap shows an extreme amount of self-belief. He was right to be confident, in five years he turned the fortunes of the struggling nation around. They were agonisingly close to qualifying for Euro 2004, losing to Russia in the Playoff's. This gave Hughes a reputation of one of the best young Managers in the game.

Oh, how times change.

Hughes now has his back against the wall. He must revert back to what got him the high-profile jobs in the first instance. 'Sparky' must be astute in the transfer market with any money Stoke are to give him. At times during his time at QPR and City, Hughes seemed to be merely an observer as others did the deals for him. This is not the way to run a successful club, Hughes must take charge of all aspects of the club, just as he did at Blackburn and Fulham, if he is to be successful here. The Potters Chairman, Peter Coates, has a reputation of being fair with his Managers, giving them every advantage to achieve the goals of the club. There is nothing to suggest this won't be the case this time around either.

Hughes must also change the team's style of play in order to be deemed a suitable Manager in the eyes of the fans, which could take longer than they will be prepared to give him. For a considerable amount of time now Stoke City have been severely criticised for their long-ball, aggressive tactics during games, stemming from the days where Rory Delap would throw the ball into the penalty area from almost anywhere in the opposition half. It would anger almost every Manager in the league, yet it was extremely effective and within the laws of the game, so they would have been foolish not to use it. Delap is now an afterthought when it comes to first-team selection but Stoke's style hasn't altered. There were tell-tail signs last season that teams had finally figured out how to counteract Stoke's methods of play. They were lucky not to be involved in the relegation fight and Pulis was given the push.

Hughes must make their play more attractive, a more fluent passing style of play that will have fans at the edge of their seat. Easier said than done, given that most footballers are creatures of habit and any changes would have to be implemented slowly. That's time Hughes simply doesn't have. If he tries to change too much, too soon, then he could end up confusing the players, leaving them unaware of their assignments on the pitch. That's why there is some scepticism regarding Hughes' ability to change the style. His team's normally play a rigid, hard to beat formation with little flair or invention. Stoke fans have seen all that before and won't tolerate a sideways step in the clubs development.

Hughes is on a hiding to nothing taking this job, yet strangely enough it almost seemed like he had no alternative.

He must get it right. If he doesn't, we will have seen the end of Sparky managing a top-flight club.

Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_