Regardless of our fate on Sunday, May 13, I believe that Mark Hughes should be appointed as Southampton manager for the upcoming season.
After 30 Premier League games of discontent, turgid football and almost certain relegation, Southampton called quits on Mauricio Pellegrino and went for the ‘tried and trusted’ option in Mark Hughes. We’ve seen an upturn in performances and attitudes ever since, and I don’t think we can afford to roll the dice again.
By handing Hughes a longer contract, it brings about some much-needed stability and allows the club to have a clear identity after two seasons of continual regression. This alongside constant asset stripping of key players has left Saints with next to no stability on the pitch.
What the club desperately needs is time with a manager who can at last help our players find an identity within the squad, as well as getting the fans back on side with the board and establishing a new set of standards for our performances. Something which was lost with the sale of key dressing room figures and poor managerial appointments.
We all want to go back to being the ambitious club we once were, but we’ve got a long way to go before such hopes can be a reality. For now, we need to focus on putting ourselves back together again piece by piece. One step at a time.
Is Mark Hughes the man to deliver our long-term goals? Probably not. But is he capable of lifting this squad and digging us out of this rut with his many years of experience? I think so, and for that reason, I believe the club could do a lot worse than extend Sparky’s deal further than this season. Especially when you consider our last two managerial appointments have only taken us backwards.
It’s the little things on the sidelines that I enjoy from Hughes. From geeing up the fans to passionately hugging his players after crucial victories, it’s refreshing to see after the lack of engagement from Puel and Pellegrino. Hughes was nicknamed Sparky during his playing days for leaving all his emotions out on the pitch, and he’s certainly transferred that into his management with us so far.
Koeman was rumored to have left after not seeing eye to eye with Les Reed (on top of the substantial salary increase of course) and this why we potentially saw the likes of Puel and Pellegrino appointed. From the fans perspective they appeared to be yes men to Reed, agreeing to every command he asked. This isn’t the case for Hughes, who will be sure to make his feelings known in the event of a disagreement.
No manager is perfect, and Hughes has definitely had difficult times during his managerial career. After successful spells in charge of the Wales national team and Blackburn Rovers, Hughes was appointed as Manchester City manager in 2008. Sparky was in charge when Sheikh Mansour transformed City with his immense wealth, but unfortunately the task of managing big names and egos was too great as Hughes failed to produce the immediate winning football that the owners demanded.
After a successful season where he guided Fulham to 8th in the Premier League, Hughes found himself at Loftus Road midway through the following season. QPR were, like Saints, battling relegation and needed Hughes to keep them in the top flight. Hughes achieved this on the final day of the season.
But it was the following campaign where the wheels well and truly fell off. Reported ‘bust-ups’ with senior players alongside a 12-match winless run saw QPR at the foot of the table. After spending substantial fees on deals on wages, Hughes, effectively, sent QPR down prior to Harry Redknapp’s arrival.
Hughes then went on to record three consecutive top half finishes with the Potters, but this season they dropped like a stone down the Premier League table, leading to Hughes’s dismissal following defeat in the FA Cup to League 2 Coventry City.
It’s safe to say the Welshman’s previous two jobs have ended on a sour note with Sparky failing to maintain strong finishes in the Premier League, but perhaps circumstances haven’t helped. Mass squad changes at QPR proved too much of a task when trying to bed-in contrasting personalities. And it’s not like any managers since have managed to steady the ship.
At Stoke, losing key players such as Marco Arnautovic and failing to replace them makes the task to progress even harder. Not to mention the horrific transfer policy installed by the higher forces at the club and the attitude problems within the squad.
Although Hughes had been dealt a bad hand in terms of keeping Saints in the Premier League, it doesn’t mean he’s exempt from criticism during his tenure either. Our approach towards the Leicester game was far too defensive when we were desperate for points, and failing to react to the shift in momentum when Chelsea pulled a goal back in the defeat at home are two examples where he’s failed to take the initiative in games.
But where Mauricio Pellegrino failed during his time at the club was being unable to develop and bring out the best in individuals, and already Hughes has achieved this. Dusan Tadic has regained his confidence and is once again looking to be the hub of our creativity. Nathan Redmond has looked more like the player we signed as he’s looking to take players on and turn defence into attack. Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand have had poor seasons for their standards, but already Hughes has helped them to become vital in our transitions from back to front.
All things considered, I genuinely believe that we wouldn’t have been in any type of relegation battle had Hughes been at the helm from the beginning of the season. But that’s all hypothetical, and instead we find ourselves just two games away from potentially playing Championship football next season.
The fans support against Swansea is vital and if the players show the same fight and passion that was on display against Bournemouth and Everton, as installed by Hughes, then we’ve got every hope of maintaining our top-flight status.