Always a contentious issue amongst their peers, managers’ are seldom given the one luxury that money cannot buy – time.
Pop down to the bookies and the favourite for the first Premiership managerial casualty of the season is QPR’s Mark Hughes. When he was appointed, faithful followers of the R’s were adamant that they had brought in the right man to carry them forward. They appreciated the-then newly departed Neil Warnock for all his efforts of getting them back into the Premiership, but maintained that it was time for a man in charge who had cut the mustard at the highest level.
So 25 matches later and more specifically, seven matches into the Premiership season, QPR find themselves at the foot of the Premiership. Two measly points from seven games. The season started terribly with a thumping 5-0 reverse to Swansea at home but that can be put down to ‘opening-day fixture syndrome’. It happens. Last season QPR were the same victims as they were trounced 4-0 at home against Bolton. After this season’s opener, they achieved a credible draw away to Norwich and then held the European champions to a stalemate in the West London derby. A defeat to the domestic champions, Manchester City, was of little matter. The two draws, particularly the latter, seemed to point that QPR were heading in the right direction.
However, the next fixture was a game of two halves personified as QPR fell to a 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane. This fixture, or more specifically, the second half performance, became the catalyst for rudderless defensive performances culminating in further odd goal defeats at home to West Ham and away to the impressive West Brom.
Speculation on Hughes’ future was rife before the game kicked off at the Hawthorns. Swarms of photographers surrounded the visitors’ dugout, mercilessly snapping away at the Welshman. The spotlight was firmly on Hughes and the defeat, particularly the manner of it, only solidified that pressure. Characteristically defiant in the face of adversity, Hughes remains confident that owner Tony Fernandes has his back.
Indeed Fernandes has publicly supported Hughes on numerous occasions – mostly through the social media marvel of Twitter. “For all QPR fans. Fans who analyse properly. I am not changing anything. And all shareholders agree. No team except the first game [the 5-0 defeat to Swansea] has outplayed us. We need a consistent four defenders not changing every week especially right and left back. Mark is the right man.”
Most would agree with Fernandes but upon analysis, it is fair to say that there is only one direction which QPR are currently heading in. In 25 games, Hughes’ record reads won six, drawn four and lost the rest. Extrapolated over a 38 game season, this amounts to 33 points which is insufficient for Premiership survival.
It is common knowledge that whenever a managerial contract termination occurs, football followers tut-tut at the television, and mutter that ‘Sir Alex was on the verge of losing his job you know….’ A contentious point. It is true that Alex Ferguson had his critics at Manchester United and it is popular belief that he was one game away from the sack before a 1990 FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. United sneaked in a narrow 1-0 win which set them on the path of FA Cup glory and then went on to dominate English football for the following two decades.
What the mutterers fail to take into account, is that Ferguson made a relatively instant impact at Old Trafford. United were second from bottom in the league when the Scot was appointed back in November 1986. 30 games later, United finished the 1986/87 season in a respectable 11th place the league. Ferguson instilled discipline as a third of their 30 games resulted with clean sheets. The Red Devils shared out wins, draws and losses with almost perfect parity as they won 11 games, drew 10 and lost 9.
The following season (1987-88), United finished an impressive second, having lost only five league games all season. Ferguson was hot property. Before signing for United, he knocked back approaches from Arsenal, Spurs and Rangers following his incredibly successful eight-year spell at Aberdeen where he won eight domestic trophies – plus the European Cup Winners Cup and the European Super Cup – in a league that was dominated by Celtic and Rangers. All in all, when results went slightly sour during the next two seasons whilst at United, Ferguson had done enough to justify a little leeway from his employers.
Hughes does not have that luxury. After a solid start to his career with Wales and Blackburn, the invitation to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson at Manchester City represented the ‘big time’ for Hughes. Similarly to his existing role at Loftus Road, Hughes was presented with an almost bottomless pit of wealth, which upon reflection seems to be his kryptonite.
Acquisitions such as Julio Caesar and Esteban Granero have turned heads but they have also fuelled the argument against Hughes being the right man for QPR. Consider that whilst at Manchester City, Hughes brought in the likes of Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry and Vincent Kompany – all key players under his successor Roberto Mancini but Hughes’ record over 55 games was distinctly average – with almost as many defeats as wins. For a team that shattered the British transfer record (signing Robinho), average was unacceptable.
Unfortunately, this sums up Hughes’ managerial career, to date. Mediocre. In fairness, that should be good enough to keep QPR in the Premiership but consider that after last season’s dramatic, final day survival, Hughes’ objective for this season was to avoid a repeat. Given their current predicament, their chances of dodging another relegation dog-fight grow slimmer by the game. The international break is a welcome one and Hughes desperately needs to regroup his troops. Before October is out he faces two unenvious ties, firstly against David Moyes’ Everton at Loftus Road and secondly, versus the recent free-scoring Arsenal at the Emirates.
Realistically, Fernandes should give Hughes those two games to prove his worth. If QPR though remain on two points at the end of October, Hughes will surely be picking up his P45.