x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mark Hughes may be back in Manchester but he is far from home

The former City boss returns to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday determined to put a spanner in the works of club who fired him in 2009. There won't be a warm welcome from the stands.

Columnist Andrew Cole says Queens Park Rangers could make use of the skills Mark Hughes possessed as a player such as his tenacity.
Columnist Andrew Cole says Queens Park Rangers could make use of the skills Mark Hughes possessed as a player such as his tenacity.

Mark Hughes goes back to Manchester City on Sunday determined to put a spanner in the works of club who fired him in 2009.

There won't be a warm welcome from the stands. Man City fans could not shake off the belief that he is still a Red while his association with Kia Joorabchian, his adviser, and comments he made about the club and Roberto Mancini means he has few friends in the corridors of power at the Etihad Stadium.

Hughes did a very good job at City and was rightly aggrieved when he was fired. He was spot on when he said recently that part of the reason City are in a great position is down to him but he must forget about proving a point or doing his former club Manchester United a favour. He must focus on keeping Queens Park Rangers in the top flight.

Hughes has few admirers as a manager. I have my issues with him. In 2005, he contacted me about going back to my former club Blackburn Rovers, where he was manager. I liked the idea and agreed to it.

I was at Fulham, a great club who treated me well, but Fulham play in London and my family lived in Manchester. I was finding life hard without them and wanted to get back north. Blackburn was perfect because I felt I had unfinished business at the club.

People saw the passion of Blackburn fans when they were relegated against Wigan on Monday. Their fans had always been great with me and I'd never wanted to leave, but I had to because of the manager Graeme Souness.

The money on offer to go back was decent too, helped no doubt by the fact that I would be a free transfer.

Everything was agreed and I told Fulham that I was on my way. I waited for the phone call from Hughes confirming everything. The call never came. Then I saw that Blackburn had signed Craig Bellamy. I rang Hughes. He was uncomfortable, before he explained that the deal couldn't go through because he'd signed Bellamy and that there was only enough money for one of us.

I was disappointed, but things like that happen in football. A similar thing happened with me and Steve Bruce at Birmingham City. And Nicky Butt and Steve Bruce at Birmingham.

I was more disappointed that Hughes didn't put me in the picture. As a player, all you want from a manager is honesty, whether the news is good or bad, yet so many managers are incapable of being straight.

Maybe Hughes could have learnt from Sir Alex Ferguson, who would personally deliver the bad news, no matter how much it disappointed a player.

I ended up going to Man City on half the money I'd agreed with Blackburn. City knew I was desperate to head back north because that's what I told Blackburn, so they chiselled the offer down

It wasn't my happiest time, but that's another story.

As a player I hold Hughes in the highest respect. I played alongside him at United in 1995 and he was a star at Old Trafford when I arrived.

He was good with me. He could have seen me as a threat, instead he was an inspiration.

I marvelled at how he intimidated and bullied even the biggest central defenders. If defenders kicked him, he just bounced up like he wasn't bothered. That really wound them up, especially when he kicked back with his massive thighs.

A game would be minutes old and there would be a clash. Hughes never showed any pain, the defenders often did. He was a man of few words on the pitch, he let his strength do the talking. He taught me to be tougher, even though I was a completely different type of player to him.

He was an old fashioned centre-forward, a target man who would hold the ball up for the rest of the team and then bring them into play by spraying the ball out wide.

He led the line like no other striker I've seen and would still get 15 to 18 goals a season, many of them spectacular.

No wonder the fans loved him. The players loved him, too, and I got on well with him. He came to my wedding in 2002, long after we'd played together. Our relationship went beyond the changing room.

How he must wish he could play on Sunday.

What an effect he could make. QPR could do with him as it will be tough against a City team unbeaten at home all season, but anything is possible in the Premier League. Look at Blackburn winning at Old Trafford or Sunderland going 3-1 up at City.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

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