Mark Hughes’ CV stretched to uncharted waters when he was appointed as the Bradford City boss on a two-and-a-half-year-deal at the end of last month.
Hughes arrived in West Yorkshire with 466 Premier League games under his belt in the dugout, but the pull of a new challenge in the EFL was too strong for the Welshman, who will experience Sky Bet League Two for the first time in a glittering career which has seen him both play and manage at the highest level.
The 58-year-old took charge of his first game on Saturday and in spite of the outcome, as the West Yorkshire outfit slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Mansfield Town, the score-line didn’t dampen his spirits.
“I mentioned after the weekend that yes, I was disappointed with the result, but I loved every minute of it,” he reflected on the Official EFL Podcast.
“Saturday was always my big day as a player, and it continues to be as a manager. I enjoy each day building up to a Saturday but actually matchday is why you do this, and I haven’t had that for a while now. I realised how much I really, really missed that, but I’ve got it back now so it’s important I retain that for as long as I can.
“The welcome I’ve had from Bradford City has been fantastic. The reception at the game last week was as good as any that I’ve had before at any Club.”
Despite being out of the dugout since December 2018, when he parted company with Southampton, he admitted he was always keen to delve back into the world of management when the opportunity presented itself.
“The desire is always there, that doesn’t go away,” he added. “My agent is my son, he came along and said, ‘I’ve spoken to Bradford, what do you think?’ We came to the conclusion that it was certainly worth a conversation and it just progressed from there.
“I met the chief executive, had a conversation with the owner and I just got a sense of a Club that wants to do the right things and is trying to enthuse the footballing public in their city, and they were going round the process in the right way. In the end I just got a sense that I wanted to do it, the more I thought about it the more engaged I was, and I’m really pleased I made that decision.
“It’s your connections and your network that get you jobs sometimes, and I think to an extent I’d almost exhausted my connections in that sense, but I was always convinced that if you get me in a room, I could get a job back in management.
“You can slip back into football and management very quickly. I remember before going in for my first day I didn’t really know what I was going to do or what I was going to say, but as soon as I got there, I knew exactly what to do. It all came flooding back very quickly so any concerns I had about maybe not knowing the role anymore were quite quickly gone.”
Hughes is now in his fifth decade in professional football. Across a decorated career, Hughes has spent time on the books for the likes of top-flight heavyweights Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, going on to win the Premier League, the League Cup and the FA Cup.
With 12 games left in the 2021/22 season, Bradford currently sit 15th in the League Two standings. However, the Bantams are likely to have a tough run-in, with eight of the remaining teams that the West Yorkshire side will pit their wits against looking to be a part of the Play-Off mix.
“It’s a different challenge, there are all different types of teams in this division and no game is the same. But I’m really looking forward to it, it’s an opportunity to open my eyes to a level I’ve not managed at but sometimes people forget that I was playing in the early 80s and 90s and football didn’t start when the Premier League started, it was going for a long time before that.
“It’s nothing I haven’t experienced as a player, so I certainly won’t be surprised about anything I come up against in League Two.
“I want to see areas of our play that are being worked on improving and if we can do that, I think we’ll be in a good place going into the summer. It’s a process, it’s not going to happen overnight.
“I’m really enthused by what’s ahead of me, it’s a different experience, I’m more involved than in other positions I’ve had previously because of the type of Club I’m at and I’m really enjoying that.”