Sunday's edition of SAINTS, to mark Burnley's visit to St Mary's on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, features the following feature-length interview with Southampton manager Mark Hughes...
It’s been 35 years since Mark Hughes made his professional debut for Manchester United against Oxford in a League Cup tie.
Starting at the top, countless highs, a few lows and barely a pause for breath later, he’s still there. The haircut may have changed, but the Southampton boss remains a fixture in the Premier League, with that unique persona of the softly-spoken warrior.
When asked if the build-up to the opening weekend still gets the juices flowing in the same way it always has, Hughes is typically articulate and patient in delivering the news that he may as well pack it in if it didn’t.
It’s easy to forget the precarious position the Welshman inherited in the spring. By the time Hughes picked up his first win, the victory over Bournemouth in late April that proved the catalyst for survival, Saints had not won a home game in the league for more than five months.
He was aware of the unrest. “I thought the crowd were a little bit upset with what they were getting, and had maybe gone a little bit away from the players, but in the last eight games everybody came together and got us over the line,” he reflects.
Hughes draws parallels with his first season as a player at The Dell – creating that feeling of unity Southampton do so well in times of need.
What was unusual about his two-year stint as a Saint in the late 90s was that he began to combine the day job with his first foray into management, taking charge of the national team for whom he was capped 72 times over a 15-year period.
That number would have increased had Hughes not called time on his international career at the time of his appointment, embarking on the tricky transition from mate to manager. “They needed to understand I was in charge, but I didn’t insist on calling me ‘boss’ or ‘gaffer’ or anything like that.”
This is just a small snippet of the full eight-page interview, in which Hughes also opens up about:
- How he established his own management philosophy
- Why he saw international football as “a big step down” and his determination to improve the Wales setup
- Why he struggles to switch off from football, even between jobs
- His own personality, and how it changes in a competitive environment
- His aggressive approach as a player
- His experiences playing abroad
- His relationship with former boss Sir Alex Ferguson
- Why it’s “difficult to know me too well,” in his own words
- The trusted bond he shares with Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki
- What Hughes believes would constitute a successful season for Saints in 2018/19
Don't forget you can pick up your copy of SAINTS from the stadium on matchday, or online at saintsprogrammes.co.uk.