Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fulham FC: The Good, The Bad and the Ego

Roy Hodgson is now an honorary Scouser. Mark Hughes is returned from the living Dead. The King is dead, long live the King.

Hughes returns to football management after six months in the near-wilderness. Apart from being linked with jobs as far apart as Turkey, the Cote d'Ivoire and West Ham, his choice of taking over a Fulham squad coming off probably the most successful year in its history is in itself laudable and curious. Even following a long Europa League campaign where the Cottagers were defeated in the final by a (probably) superior Atletico Madrid, Fulham remains a smallish club with ambitions and finances far-removed from Hughes' last position.

Perhaps he has decided his best move is overachieving with a small- or mid-market club but doesn this put Hughes in a quandary? He's come from unlimited resources, and apparently has rebuffed interest from several interested parties simply because he was once the manager of a “big club” and wanted a job in keeping with his results and reputation. He's had money and therefore had no interest in slumming it at his next role which is sort of admirable, but if it's your club being rebuffed it can leave a sour taste in the mouth. It's now no secret, Mark Hughes has an ego, for better or worse.

I say for better. Surely at a Fulham FC coming from some moderate success yet needing some squad renewal, ego is a good thing? If as has been intimated Hughes is so sure of himself then his first task is to ensure some of that rubs off onto his charges. A manager with a well-developed sense of ego tends to engender one of three moods in his squad: inspiration, alienation or a weird bastard child of the both. Hughes is well known to be quite soft-spoken, at least softly-spoken enough so as not to be abrasive, but if his methods and results differ too greatly from those of Hodgson (another mild-mannered gaffer) he risks the senior players upping and leaving.

The fine line that Hughes must tread is that of empowering his playesr while getting them to buy into his methods. If you told me that this could be done by either an egomaniac or a serf, I'd pick the Kevin Pietersen clone any time: as success breeds success, if done correctly self-belief breeds self-belief. Hodgson mastered this excellently; Hughes has both the wherewithal and the ability to instil this into his squad as witnessed by his tenure at Blackburn. In that small market he squeezed the best out of potential topliners Roque Santa Cruz and Morten Gamst Pedersen, as well as from players previously viewed as plodders like Jason Roberts. He has form for getting the most from his charges, and that in itself is a big tick for a smaller-market manager. Given the limited funding, the other thing a smaller market manager must do this without alienating his roster. If he can get all the players looking in one direction he will have success because he followed the formula: buy in + empowerment + discipline (which comes from the respect gained by empowering the players) = results.

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