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Hughes out to bring style and substance to Hartlepool
JOHN Hughes is smarter than the average football manager. For Hartlepool United's new man at the top, the game is a science.
The engaging and infectious Scot this week became the 43rd man to hold the Hartlepool reins. He is the eighth permanent appointment made by owners IOR Ltd.
Internal appointments may have stuttered, but their choices from outside have been successes - Chris Turner saved the club from the drop, Mike Newell led them to promotion, Neale Cooper reached the play-offs and Danny Wilson took them up and out of League Two.
Success, short-term for Hughes, is easily defined: keeping Pools in League One. Long-term he aims to reshape and refresh the club from top to bottom.
Nicknamed Yogi, after another former Celtic (and very briefly of Sunderland) defender of the same name, Hughes has a tag that sticks.
Now his aim is to engineer a reputation that remains with him in English football.
"There's not many Yogis in football so everybody knows you,'' he said. "My mum always says to me, 'I don't know if that's a good thing, son'.
"But I say make sure it's a good thing and make sure you walk on the right side of the tracks or they'll point you out instantly.
"The name came from big Yogi Hughes, who played at Celtic. Because he was John Hughes and I was John Hughes and we both played at Celtic it stuck.''
Fellow Scot Cooper, equally charismatic, was quickly embraced by the town and the way Hughes has started it's hard to imagine the same not happening.
The principles and beliefs from his working class roots fit into the Hartlepool mentality. There's pride to be gleaned from working hard and being down to earth. It's a North-East characteristic which unites the region with Scotland.
"Scottish managers have done well in England and I mentioned it in my interview, not so much as part of the interview, but in discussion about society,'' he reflected.
"When I was brought up my mother's door was never closed. I've two brothers and three sisters and it was a pan of soup or mince and tatties, cheap and cheerful.
"Look at industries and shipyards - my father was a docker and I used to go and meet him when the whistle went and there was thousands coming out.
"That working class ethic was instilled in us, that passion and will to win is in us as Scottish managers and if I can get half the success as some of them (in England), I'll be a happy guy.''
Hughes, previously in charge of Falkirk, Hibs and Livingston - "I've done my apprenticeship in Scotland" - has long wanted to manage in the Football League.
Hartlepool, not a million miles from his Edinburgh roots in both miles and mentality, is the ideal platform.
"It's an opportunity I have wanted for a long time, English football has a higher profile. Scottish football has to have a real good look at itself,'' he admitted.
"One of my number one objectives is for Hartlepool to be known for playing a real scintillating style of football - pass, pass, move, one and two touch. I've done it at every club I've been at and it's hard. Scots may be tight but we aren't afraid of hard work.
"I will take the knocks and we will all work together. The challenge doesn't faze me, I get my work done, I suffer when results are not going our way.
"But in life there's an appreciation of having success as a footballer. The pinnacle of the career of any Scot is to play for the Old Firm - I got there aged 31 through hard work. Then to go and play for the team I supported and captain Hibs for four years - I grafted for it.
"I'm a painter and decorator by trade and all my friends at school were getting professional deals. I took a heavy knock and it could have put me off. Instead it made me more determined and I get motivated by knocks. I want to prove I can be a success.''
As a no-nonsense centre-half, Hughes was as committed as they come - "No quarter asked and no quarter given. I loved tackling, heading and winning those one-on-one battles.''
He's mellowed somewhat since, knowing when the time is right to put an arm around a player and the time for a ticking off, when to stand back and when to jump in.
"As a player I was honest and committed, sometimes over-committed. But as I got older I realised football was a science and we all play it for a reason,'' he said. "Players jump in their cars and have a moan with each other about this and that - it's negative.
"Football evolves and we all evolve as a club, comings and goings, contracts up for grabs. Next six games at least, win as many as we can.
"Do that and we are in a better position to say 'I want to be part of it'. I will leave them behind, trust me I will do that.''
He added: "I was regarded in Scotland as one of the hardest working managers. I was in England watching games twice a week, never away from Manchester United reserve games.
"I could name the team in an instant, McShane, Eckersley, Rossi, Blake... it was great.
"I couldn't get over the brilliance of Giuseppe Rossi, so much so that I was ready to take a Transit van down there every week to watch him.
"I signed players from Newcastle as well. I'm prepared to graft and I've a family and a wife who is a football wife.''
If things go to plan, it may be a while before his other half sees him again.
"I said to her this week 'look I'm going to England, I'll catch you up in four years' time'. I really did,'' he insisted.
"She's OK, got her sister two doors away, her mother two doors away and I'm the only man in the house with four girls - I've nay chance there have I! I'm down here for 20 years to be a success.
"My biggest thing, I love a laugh and a joke and trust me I'm a very deep thinker.
"I like a laugh but that might be to keep them at distance. When it comes to getting on with real football guys, mobile phones go away and I will come up with a plan and a structure for success.''
That success seems a long way away at the moment with Pools entrenched at the foot of League One.
But Hughes is focused on getting the happy times back at Victoria Park.
"Short-term let's win football matches, then make sure we stay in the division. Then after that let's make sure we are challenging at the play-off places and bring a real pride back to the town and community,'' he said.
"I'm in a real hotbed in the North-East, real people, real passion and I want to be part of it.
"I love football and I will watch games all day. I'll be at Newcastle, Sunderland and watching reserve and academy games, it's non-stop.
"I want people to look at Hartlepool in a couple of years and say that you should be watching football there and how they play the right way, watch the young kids come through and see them develop.
"Go and watch them pass and move, one touch and how they play football - that's my vision and bringing success is the icing on the cake.''
Hughes won't have money to waste. He won't have any. He has a squad at his disposal which is in place and now it's up to him to get the best out of them and he is more than willing to put the hours in on the training ground to improve what he has got.
"Everyone here has a blank canvas, it's not about money, but about getting what I can from them.
"Instant assessment. Get them motivated to want to be part of it and know they are playing for a club going somewhere.
"I work with sports psychologists individually and sometimes I bring them in and all that intrigues me.
"Critical non-essentials, I call them, is a big thing, they matter.
"An example - you won't get a game on a Saturday if you've not got a football pitch. So can that pitch be the best surface in the division because we want to play beautiful football.
"I'm not going to ask my players to play that way if it's not the best pitch.
"Can we have the best kits, the best training facilities, strength and conditioning and training equipment, best balls and mannequins?
"If not then let's work to get them.
"Players see that and they see wee changes for the better and they then want to be part of it and it's my job to see that it happens.''