Neil Warnock has, unfortunately, always looked misplaced in the preening world of the Barclays Premier League. His relatively unkempt appearance and strong Sheffield accent seem completely removed from the style and cosmopolitan class of a Roberto Mancini or an Andre Villas-Boas.
More damaging to any hopes of success, however, has been his lack of gravitas amongst the other 19 clubs and managers of England’s top flight. It is this that has all but ensured uphill struggles whenever leading a team in the Premier League, be it Sheffield United or Queens Park Rangers. To put it plainly, Warnock’s achievements clearly merit a shot at the big-time, but once there, he just doesn’t quite fit the bill.
On the other hand, his successor, Mark Hughes, is a top-flight manager with a reputation forged through a career spent entirely at the highest level. His connections and established standing among the Premier League elite will enable him to push Queens Park Rangers firmly in the right direction.
Stints in charge of Wales and Blackburn Rovers illustrate his pedigree for managerial success, having led Wales to a group-stage victory over Italy and the very brink of qualification for Euro 2004. His four-year tenure at Ewood Park—a reign that included three consecutive cup semi-finals, a Top-6 finish in the league and a place in Europe—helps to most clearly illuminate Hughes’ claim to be a top-class manager.
Detractors claim Hughes’ ambition to be delusions of grandeur, pointing to his markedly less successful periods in charge of Manchester City and Fulham. However, having led City into Europe and to their first semifinal in 28 years, Hughes may have had a right to feel hard done by with his dismissal.
Furthermore, one may argue that he laid the foundations for success that Roberto Mancini needed only to build upon. Seven members of the starting lineup in Manchester City’s 2011 FA Cup Final were Hughes-era players, including five of which he personally signed.
His time at Fulham was certainly no abject failure, either, achieving a respectable eighth-place finish in the league and Europa League qualification through the Fair Play league.
So, Mark Hughes is a proven Premier League manager, much in the same way that Neil Warnock is a proven Championship manager. He brings to Loftus Road a wealth of experience at the highest level, a strong backroom staff and a vast network of connections, which will allow signings and influence impossible under the previous regime.
His track record is solid, and at Blackburn Rovers, Hughes followed up survival in his first season with a sixth-place finish in his second. The Barclays Premier League is a different beast now, and such a turnaround would be unlikely in what is arguably a much-improved league.
Top 6 is wholly unachievable in the short term; an ambitious manager may aim for a top-half finish next season, and don’t bet against the Welshman to push on from there.