“We need to stay in the Premier League this season.” It’s a familiar refrain you can hear from managers across the country on a weekly basis, and one that new Queens Park Rangers manager Mark Hughes was keen to emphasise during an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
After a six-month sabbatical from the game, the Welshman has set himself the challenge of not only saving the west London club from relegation this season, but building for the future.
While a period out of management following his departure from Fulham in the summer of last year was a chance to “regain energy”, Hughes admits he was waiting for another opportunity to present itself. When QPR parted company with Neil Warnock shortly into the New Year, the club’s owners pinpointed the former Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United striker as the ideal man to ensure survival.
“They made it very clear that they were very ambitious for the club and they wanted to take it forward, and they wanted me to drive that. I became very interested in a very short space of time,” Hughes explained. “From that point onwards, all the promises that I was made at that time, the club has stood by those. As we move into the future, I've no doubt that we're going to build on what we're trying to do here, and be a better club and a better team.”
Fellow newly-promoted sides Norwich City and Swansea City are already well on their way to the 40 point mark which most managers expect to guarantee another season in the top flight, but QPR have found the going slightly tougher and are one of five teams currently most threatened by a drop to the Championship. “It's not going to be easy, we're in a situation where there's a number of clubs in and around us,” said Hughes.
“It has all concertinaed quite rapidly so we need to start winning games. We need to get more wins on the board and that's the aim from now until the end of the year. It's not easy gaining Premier League points. There are no shortcuts - I've said to the players time and time again that you have to do the hard yards, you have to do the hard work, and you've got to enjoy that part of it. If you don't then it becomes very difficult to win at Premier League level because it's a unique league.”
The 48-year-old will certainly be able to draw on a vast amount of managerial experience, particularly in the Premier League. After beginning his post-playing career as manager of his country Wales, Hughes had a successful spell at Blackburn Rovers before being handed the reins for 18 months at Manchester City. “I've always been at clubs where I've gone in and had to address the environment and the culture of the football club,” he said.
“That's a similar situation that I've found since I've come to QPR, that there's a lot of things that need to be brought up to speed and up to standard. The quicker we do that then the easier it will be to create the environment that enables players to be the best they can be. The guys are working hard trying to implement what I expect and from my knowledge and understanding of the Premier League, the things that I know will help us to win football matches.”
QPR’s quest for more points during the second half of the season will be boosted by the significant investment Hughes made in the transfer market during the January window. Defender Nedum Onuoha and striker Bobby Zamora were brought in from former clubs City and Fulham respectively while Djibril Cisse, once of Liverpool, swapped Lazio for London. Taye Taiwo and Federico Macheda were also signed on loan to give the squad much-needed added quality in depth.
Hughes is confident the players at his disposal are good enough to keep the club in the division. “I feel certainly short-term we can stay in the Premier League, we have enough quality to do that.” But the manager shares the vision of the club’s owners and is prepared to spend “significant time” helping QPR become a considerable force. “Once we've done that then we can build on what we've put in place in a short space of time,” he enthused.
“We want to be a consistently successful Premier League team - that means being in the top half of the Premier League on a consistent level rather than looking over our shoulder at what's happening below us. I think we're more than capable of achieving that in a couple of years. Along with that, obviously there are lots of things going on - a new training ground, hopefully a stadium at some point, so it's going to be an exciting period to be involved at QPR.”