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Mark Hughes was not ready for football to retire him after taking Bradford job

Mark Hughes Unveiling – Utilita Energy Stadium
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

Mark Hughes always believed he would return to management after coming down the divisions to take over at Bradford on a two-and-a-half-year contract, saying: “I wasn’t prepared for the game to retire me.”

Following a five-year stint at the helm of his native Wales, former Manchester United striker Hughes has had spells with Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham, QPR, Stoke and Southampton, all of which have been in the Premier League.

Only six men have managed more top-flight games than Hughes but he will return to the dugout in more understated fashion after a surprising link up with League Two Bradford, who sacked Derek Adams last week.

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Hughes, 58, who has been out of work since being axed by Southampton in December 2018, claimed he has had other offers in the interim and never doubted his time away would lead to him quietly slipping out of the game.

“It’s been longer than I anticipated, it’s fair to say that but it’s what I do,” he said. “I view myself still in football terms as a young man – I might not look it on occasions, but I’ve still got many years left in the game.

“I always felt I needed to take a break after my last position at Southampton. I was doing that at the time then Covid came for the last couple of years. The timetable of my return was skewed somewhat.

“I’ve looked at certain opportunities, they weren’t right just because of the timing of them but this feels right and gives me the opportunity to look at the squad from now until the end of the season.

“I wasn’t prepared for the game to retire me, I’d like to have the option to retire myself when I feel it’s ready, rather than the game retire me.”

Mark Hughes has been out of work since leaving Southampton in 2018

Mark Hughes has been out of work since leaving Southampton in 2018 (Martin Rickett/PA)

Hughes, who won two Premier League titles with United and represented the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona in a glittering playing career, admitted he will be out of his comfort zone at a side currently 15th in the fourth tier.

Despite collecting four points from the last 21 available, Hughes is looking up the table ahead of taking training for the first time on Friday, 24 hours before his first game against Mansfield at the Utilita Energy Stadium.

“It’s a different sort of challenge,” Hughes said. “Clearly it’s at a level I’ve not worked at before but I’m of the view that my skills are transferable.

“I’ve been in the game for a long time so I think I’ve got a good insight into what works and what doesn’t.

“I’m looking forward to it, maybe we won’t have the resources that I possibly had at some of the clubs I’ve been involved with but that doesn’t faze me at all.

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“The support I’ve had up to this point has been great and moving forward I’m sure I’ll get all the resources that I need to make us successful.”

It is more than 20 years since Bradford were last in the Premier League while the Yorkshire club have been out of the top two divisions since the 2003-04 campaign, but Hughes is convinced they are a sleeping giant.

“We’re one of the bigger clubs, in my view,” Hughes added. “Probably a club that other teams like to come to and see if they can overcome. To a certain extent we’ve probably got a little bit of a target on our backs.”

Bradford chief executive officer Ryan Sparks views bringing Hughes to the club as a major coup.

“This is without doubt one of the most significant appointments in the history of our football club,” Sparks said. “Mark recognises our true potential – and has the desire to ensure we fulfil it.

“His record and stature in the game speaks for itself, and he has achieved a great deal. To have him in our dugout is representative of the club’s ambition and desire to be successful.”

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