Welcome to Last Word on Footballs ‘Returning Players’ Series. In this edition, we take a look at Mark Hughes.
The Welshman became a Manchester United legend following two successful spells at Old Trafford. Hughes’s first spell at United lasted for three years before returning to the club following two years abroad at two of Europe’s most famous clubs.
Hughes won several major honours at United and helped the club at the beginning of their many years of dominance. A quiet man off the pitch but aggressive on it, his eye for the spectacular goal made him a Red Devils favourite.
Returning Players – Mark Hughes
First Spell at Manchester United
Mark Hughes joined Manchester United straight from school in 1980. However, he would have to wait three years to make his debut. But once he did, he made it very difficult for the then United manager Ron Atkinson to leave him out.
Hughes netted a debut goal against Oxford United in the League Cup. ‘Sparky,’ as he is affectionately known, would score another four goals in the league and break up the formidable forward pairing of Frank Stapleton and Norman Whiteside.
Any doubts that fans had that Hughes’s fine form in the games he played in his debut season were a fluke were quickly diminished when the following season, everyone sat up and took notice of the Welsh wonder. During his first full season in the Red Devils first team, Hughes would score 24 goals, helping the team finish fourth in the league. This debut season also saw him win his first major trophy, the FA Cup. United took on league champions Everton at Wembley and won thanks to an extra-time winner. Hughes would also win the PFA Young Player of the Year award to cap an excellent full debut season.
The following season began with United being installed as favourites to win the title following ten game-winning run. However, it was not to be as United struggled with injuries and eventually finished fourth once again. Despite the disappointment, Hughes still scored an impressive 18 goals. It was his form throughout his first two seasons in the United first-team that led to speculation mount regarding a move away from Old Trafford. Speculation that by the beginning of the new season had become reality with Hughes heading to another giant in world football.
Teams That Mark Hughes Played for in Between
Following a stunning volley for Wales against Spain in a World Cup qualifier, teams across Europe began to monitor Hughes’s progress. One of those clubs was Spanish giants Barcelona. In the summer of 1986, Hughes completed his move to Spain with manager Terry Venables and the Catalans paying almost £2 million, a huge sum at the time. Hughes would be paired up front with English striker Gary Lineker who had also just arrived. On paper, it appeared to be a mouth-watering partnership that could bring a new era of greatness to the Nou Camp.
Sadly for Hughes, he did not settle in Spain. His style of play did not work in La Liga where his physicality was often penalised. He would score just five goals but did help his strike partner Lineker to score an impressive 21 goals. Hughes would last just one season in Spain before he was loaned out to another European heavyweight, Bayern Munich.
In Germany, Hughes would rediscover his form; however, his time there would be most remembered for the time he played two games in one day. The first was for Wales in a Euro 88 qualifier in Prague against Czechoslovakia. He was then flown back to Germany where he appeared for Munich in a cup replay against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Hughes’s time away from England would last just two seasons before returning to very similar surroundings.
Return to Manchester United
In the summer of 1988, Hughes returned to Manchester United for a fee of £1.8 million. United were now managed by the now legendary manager Alex Ferguson. Upon returning to Old Trafford, Hughes said: “It’s in the back of your mind that you should never go back, but it was a different club. Alex Ferguson had replaced Ron Atkinson, there had been a tidying up of discipline and everybody knew which way the club wanted to go. If it had been any other club, I probably would have stayed in Munich but United swayed me.”
The Welshman’s first two seasons back at United were a mixed bag. Ferguson’s side struggled in the league as he began to rebuild the squad and the club itself. Hughes however, was back scoring goals again with 31 in two seasons. He also won the PFA Player of the Year award. Despite two disappointing seasons for the club, the following season was the beginning of United’s dominance that would go on for years, and Hughes was a big part of those beginnings.
1990 brought United’s first trophy in five years as they lifted the FA Cup, defeating Crystal Palace following a replay. It was Hughes’s two goals in the first game that helped United earn a 3-3 draw to take the game to a replay – a game they would win 1-0. The following season saw improvements made in the league but it was in Europe where they excelled. Hughes and United reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup and took on Barcelona.
Two goals from the Welsh hitman saw United win their first European Trophy since 1968. He hit 21 goals that season, topping the United scoring charts and also winning the PFA Player of the Year award once again.
United narrowly missed out on the league title the following season as they were beaten to first place by Leeds United; however, they did win the League Cup. United, with Hughes back in their squad were getting better with each passing season.
At the end of the 1992/93 season, United were crowned the first winners of the newly formed Premier League. It ended their 26-year wait for a league title. Hughes playing a major part by being top scorer. The following season brought even more success. Another league title was followed by the FA Cup to complete a famous double. Hughes scored 22 goals, including a goal in the FA Cup final, and another in a losing effort in the League Cup final. It was a Hughes volley in the last minute of the FA Cup semi-final that snatched a draw to earn a replay. United went on to win the replay and beat Chelsea 4-0 in the final.
Following many years as United’s first-choice striker, there would eventually come a time to move on. United had Eric Cantona and they also signed Andy Cole. Despite this, Hughes still played a major part in the season. United and Blackburn Rovers fought until the last day of the season over the league title with the latter winning. The FA Cup also escaped them, losing in the final to Everton. It was United’s first season in six where they had not won a trophy.
In the summer of 1995, United bid farewell to fan favourite Mark Hughes for a second time. His second spell at the Theater of Dreams brought many trophies and goals. Hughes played a major part in helping build Manchester United into a global force they were under Alex Ferguson.
Hughes departed for Chelsea for £1 million, leaving United a legend and with a record of 163 goals in 467 appearances.