Daily Mail

HOW THE FIRE WENT OUT OF SPARKY . . .

He seemed tired when axe fi­nally fell

- By IAN HER­BERT @ian­herbs Sports · Soccer · Premier League (England) · Newcastle United Football Club · Manchester United F.C. · Manchester · Stoke City F.C. · Stoke-on-Trent · Old Trafford · José Mourinho · Southampton F.C. · Southampton · Manchester City Football Club · Virgil van Dijk · Vanuatu · Danny Ings · Claude Puel · Swansea City A.F.C. · Sean Dyche · Twitter · Instagram · Facebook · West Ham United F.C. · Manuel Pellegrini · Laos · Jannik Vestergaard · Mauricio Pellegrino · Swansea · David Moyes

There were barely a dozen peo­ple in the room when Mark hughes ar­rived to talk af­ter another mono­chrome af­ter­noon against New­cas­tle United a few months back.

What en­sued felt less like a press con­fer­ence than an awk­ward din­ner-party con­ver­sa­tion. ev­ery­one strug­gled for some­thing to say.

It was a sign of what some who know hughes well have been say­ing for more than a few months — a lit­tle of the fire has gone out of him.

There have been oc­ca­sions in the past five years, such as af­ter a good per­for­mance against Manch­ester United by his then Stoke side — and some sear­ing in­sight into his old club in the post-match dis­cus­sion — when you won­dered why he’d not been con­sid­ered for the Old Traf­ford job him­self.

But hughes just seemed tired in the back cor­ri­dors of St Mary’s on Satur­day, when a piece of Jose Mour­inho non­sense about Southamp­ton lack­ing am­bi­tion was tossed his way. ‘ Oh for Christ’s sake,’ he replied.

Win­ning three matches in 22 games is not good. Nei­ther is the brit­tle de­fence, car­ry­ing echoes of the weak­ness which saw him dis­missed nine years ago as Manch­ester City man­ager. But the evap­o­ra­tion of Southamp­ton as a side with top-10 as­pi­ra­tions is a re­sult of them sell­ing off their best play­ers and be­ing un­will­ing to spend on re­motely ad­e­quate re­place­ments.

It’s all very well chair­man ralph Krueger telling hughes that owner Gao Jisheng wants ‘the Ws’ (wins). But the Chi­nese busi­ness­man in ques­tion has also made it known that he wants to sell play­ers in Jan­uary to fund any new ones.

And so it is that the club who sold Vir­gil van Dijk for £80mil­lion find them­selves with Jan­nik Vester­gaard, who was twice turned on Satur­day in pas­sages of play which brought Manch­ester United their goals.

hughes had al­ways been far hap­pier with Danny Ings than ei­ther Vester­gaaard or Mo­hamed ely­ounoussi. But ser­vice­able for­wards like Ings are of lim­ited value when they’re not reg­u­larly fit.

None of that ap­pears to form part of the cal­cu­la­tion to sack hughes, which is a mon­u­men­tal gam­ble at best. That kind of de­ci­sion is usu­ally pre-empted by cat­a­strophic and ir­rev­o­ca­ble fail­ure. Southamp­ton no more fit that de­scrip­tion than they did when part­ing with Claude Puel, who’d taken them to an eighth-placed fin­ish and a League Cup fi­nal.

There have been barely four months of foot­ball since hughes was keep­ing Southamp­ton in the Premier League af­ter the dis­as­trous de­ci­sion to hire Mauri­cio Pel­le­grino.

The es­cape act in­cluded the mem­o­rable trip to Swansea City, when hughes and his man­age­ment team turned the lo­cal Mar­riott ho­tel’s ques­tion­able can­cel­la­tion of their book­ing to their favour — mo­ti­vat­ing the team by turn­ing it into what the lo­cal Southamp­ton pa­per called ‘ho­tel-gate.’ hughes’ de­par­ture and the rel­ish with which it was be­ing seized upon yes­ter­day, seems to con­form to the present re­quire­ment for man­age­rial nov­elty and star­dust qual­ity. Few man­agers dare dis­cuss it, for fear of seem­ing out of touch, though Sean Dy­che did in a re­veal­ing in­ter­view for the book On The Brink by the jour­nal­ist Si­mon hughes last year. ‘A few bad re­sults? Sack the man­ager. he ain’t good enough,’ said Dy­che. ‘Soon enough, a new gen­er­a­tion of fan will only know Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and Face­book. This is how it has fac­tu­ally changed. ‘If we live in a throw­away so­ci­ety, why should foot­ball be any dif­fer­ent? Opin­ions are made in­stantly. There is less of a de­sire to look at the sit­u­a­tion and try to fix things.’

The ig­nominy of be­com­ing the first Premier League man­ager dis­missed twice in a year brings the risk that hughes will now be con­signed to the ranks of the un­fash­ion­able, where David Moyes re­sides.

Moyes’ re­place­ment at West ham, Manuel Pel­le­grini, ar­rived with the la­bel ‘world class man­ager’ be­cause he’d won the league with a team of su­per­stars at Manch­ester City.

The ap­point­ment of Aus­trian ralph hasen­huttl brings star­dust through the door and, you have to imag­ine, no awk­ward si­lences in the St Mary’s press room for a few months at least.

Dy­che will tell you hughes will be phleg­matic about that.

‘Man­agers get a thicker skin,’ he said. ‘If it doesn’t work out, c’est la

vie. They learn to walk off into the dis­tance.’

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