x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hughes favourite for Fulham

The former Manchester City manager looks set for Craven Cottage, but Cesc Fabregas is torn between Arsenal and a return to Barcelona.

Mark Hughes is expected to be unveiled as Fulham's new manager. The Welshman has been out of work since he was sacked by Manchester City in December.
Mark Hughes is expected to be unveiled as Fulham's new manager. The Welshman has been out of work since he was sacked by Manchester City in December.

Mark Hughes looks set for a return to the Premier League following seven months out of the game, after Fulham confirmed they are on the brink of appointing their new manager. Although the club stopped short of confirming Hughes was their choice, the former Manchester City manager has been widely tipped in the British press to become Roy Hodgson's successor.

Hughes, 46, who was sacked by City last December and replaced by Roberto Mancini, is understood to have reached an agreement with Fulham with an announcement now expected within the next two days. A spokesperson for the southwest London club said: "I can confirm that we are hopeful of an announcement within the next 24/48 hours." Hughes became the favourite to land the job after Fulham lost out in their bid to prise Martin Jol away from Ajax.

The expected arrival of Hughes will almost certainly be followed by a reshuffle of the backroom staff at Craven Cottage. Ray Lewington, the first-team coach and caretaker manager following Hodgson's departure to Liverpool, is expected to link-up with him again on Merseyside. Hughes is expected to bring in his own regular backroom team including Mark Bowen, Kevin Hitchcock and Eddie Niedzwiecki. It was the Welshman's loyalty to his assistants, and his reluctance to alter or increase the size of his staff, that contributed to his departure from City.

Hughes began his managerial career with Wales in 1999. The former Manchester United and Chelsea striker was close to guiding his country to qualification for Euro 2004, but lost out in a play-off to Russia. Blackburn appointed him their manager in 2004 and he led Rovers to an FA Cup semi-final and Uefa Cup qualification. Four years later he joined City but despite pushing the club into the top six, the aspirations changed when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed took charge. The takeover made City richer and more ambitious, but even though Hughes spent heavily on players, a combination of disappointing home draws and the reluctance to change his backroom staff saw him sacked in December last year.

It is reported that Hughes will be given around £15 million (Dh85.5m) to spend on players by Mohamed al Fayed, the Fulham chairman, and he will link-up again with Alistair Mackintosh, the chief executive who he worked closely with during his time at City. Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas, the Arsenal captain, admits he is torn between a move to Barcelona or remaining in London. Fabregas has long been linked with a return to Barca, the club where he started his career as a youth player, but Arsenal have already turned down a £29m bid from the Catalan giants.

The 23-year-old admits he is drawn to Barca, having supported the club all his life, but said a recent conversation with Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal coach, has left him in doubt over his future. "I'm a Barca fan, I'm a socio, as is my grandfather, my uncle, my cousin ... I have felt the colours from a young age, I'm Catalan," Fabregas said in an interview with DIR Emotions magazine. "However, I'm the captain of Arsenal, I'm a 'Gunner', and I have become a player there and matured as a person."

During that time, Fabregas has grown up under the tutelage of Wenger and the Spain midfielder said: "He is a second father for me, the most important person in my life after my father. He has behaved really well with me and taken me in like a son. I am part of his family. "He doesn't want me to leave. And in my last conversation with him in London, it was one of the most difficult moments I have experienced. I ended up very upset."

* PA