Hughes took Blackburn as far as he could during his four-year tenure at the club, finishing in the top half of the table in each of his last three seasons at Ewood Park. A year after making it through the Intertoto Cup into the first round of the UEFA Cup, where they were surprisingly knocked out by Greek side AE Larisa, Blackburn missed out on an Intertoto Cup place by three points this time around.
The former Welsh national team coach had a very small budget at Blackburn, a team with a small stadium in the shadow of bigger clubs like Manchester United and even Bolton to a lesser extent. The town of Blackburn itself isn’t a particularly affluent area, and Ewood Park was rarely sold out on game days.
All told, Hughes was at the helm for 188 matches at Blackburn and compiled a solid 82-47-59 record. He was never going to be able to take the club further than he did — competing for a UEFA Cup spot — because he didn’t have enough money available to go out and get the quality of players necessary to make a run at the “Big Four”.
For Hughes’ managerial career to progress, he made the right move to join Manchester City, a club with a much bigger stadium and an owner who has shown he’ll splash the cash. With just that in mind, though, there will also be more expectations to succeed and Hughes has never had to manage in the limelight with any real pressure. Shinawatra drove a more established, successful coach in Sven-Goran Eriksson out of town after just one season, so you know he’ll have no qualms about getting rid of Hughes if the team has a particularly poor season in ’08-’09.
That wealthy owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, is also very hands-on with the sporting side of the club and has shown that he likes to have a say in what’s going on with the team. Sure, he’s not directly picking the side that will come out of the tunnel, but he still has a lot of influence on what’s happening downstairs. I’m not sure that Hughes, given what I’ve seen in his demeanor and personality, will want to deal with that kind of interference from someone who knows very little about the game.
The Premiership coaching carousel is now underway as there’s obviously a vacancy at Blackburn. Hughes took his assistant, Mark Bowen, with him to Manchester so he’s not an option, and the rumor mill so far includes some of the usual suspects: Sam Allardyce, Steve McLaren (who is very close to tying up a deal with Dutch club FC Twente), former Blackburn player Mike Newell, and Slaven Bilic (who won’t be leaving the Croatian national team for Blackburn). I would think, however, that club chairman John Williams would make an effort to bring in someone who is coaching in the Premier League right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be someone who’s currently a manager, but someone who is very familiar with what’s going on in England’s top flight.