Mark Hughes was once tipped to follow Sir Alex into the United hotseat but now he's in a fight he can't afford to lose

If it all ends badly for Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, what next for manager Mark Hughes? Short term, another vote of confidence, maybe one more stay of execution. But beyond? What if, in time, the patience of his employer, Tony Fernandes, wears thin? What if the end is sooner than we think and the meeting with Southampton is Hughes’s last as Rangers boss? Where would he go from there?

A must-win game, Fernandes called the weekend fixture, which is never a good sign. He has been impressively supportive to this point and indulged Hughes in the transfer market in the summer, in  quantity if not quality. Yet even his loyalty has a limit and it may be exceeded if Rangers pass another weekend without their first  Premier League win of the season.

Nigel Adkins of Southampton is also under executive scrutiny and in the bottom three but he has successive promotions as collateral. Even were chairman Nicola Cortese to lose patience, there would be plenty who would recognise Adkins’s achievements. Being sacked by Southampton hardly impacted on the career of Alan Pardew.

Under pressure: Mark Hughes is fighting to save QPR's season... and his own managerial career
Under pressure: Mark Hughes is fighting to save QPR's season... and his own managerial career

Under pressure: Mark Hughes is fighting to save QPR's season... and his own managerial career

It is different for Hughes. Fail at Rangers and the man who was once regarded as one of the brightest young managers in the English game, and a contender for top jobs across Europe if successful, would be close to unemployable. If the stakes are high for Rangers, they are peaking for Hughes.

Harry Redknapp is a fine manager, but he is out of work right now because he is an awkward fit. Tottenham  Hotspur deserted him last season, so did the Football Association, and what else is left? Is he likely to get one of the Champions League elite clubs:  Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Chelsea? Not at 65. Would the mid-table comfort zone content him after challenging in Europe with Tottenham? Probably not, considering he turned down Newcastle United in 2008.

So what to do? Even if a club suited him, a job opportunity must first arise. Redknapp back at West Ham United? Not while Sam Allardyce is sixth in the league. Redknapp for Liverpool? Brendan Rodgers must be given at least a season first. Redknapp costs money, overhauls team rosters, always wants financial backing and is the same age as the singer from  Herman’s Hermits. And nobody is booking them for Glastonbury next summer, either.

Hughes has similar baggage, putting off potential suitors having walked away from Fulham. And, like Redknapp, when times are tight, the cost of his new broom is seen as problematic. Being bottom of the league is bad enough, but resting there at considerable expense is a terrifying thought for all owners. Those outside Rangers will look at Fernandes’s predicament, shudder and place a mental line through the name Mark Hughes.

Ominous: Rangers' owner Tony Fernandes (right) has warned that Hughes must beat Southampton

Ominous: Rangers' owner Tony Fernandes (right) has warned that Hughes must beat Southampton

He costs big, that is what they will think. He demands a significant budget — for wages, if not transfer fees — he brings an extensive backroom staff, he usually has grand designs on the training complex. And Hughes’s instincts for improvement are right on every count. Yet this season, he has also made some very public errors. Taking England goalkeeper Robert Green from West Ham United on £50,000 a week, and dumping him after three league games, was a shocker.

Julio Cesar, Green’s replacement, was also a free transfer but his wages will be significant after a career at Inter Milan. Green was blamed for a fair sprinkling of the nine goals which were conceded in matches with Swansea City,  Norwich City and Manchester City — plus a smattering in pre-season  friendlies — and Hughes acted swiftly. But £50,000 is a lot of money to pay  a man to observe football from  the sidelines.

Nor did it help when Cesar said that he accepted Rangers’ proposal because he wanted to live in London. Nobody was expecting him to cite a lifelong admiration for Stan Bowles, or the opportunity to work with Shaun Wright-Phillips, as his motivation, but such a flippant aside only contributes to the idea that Fernandes has ended up throwing good money after bad in his desperation to satisfy his manager.

A costly mistake: Hughes quickly lost faith in Robert Green - but the goalkeeper didn't come cheap

A costly mistake: Hughes quickly lost faith in Robert Green - but the goalkeeper didn't come cheap

It is a myth that Rangers spent hugely in the summer but they had a relative go for a club who have the lowest average gate in the Premier League, and would only be 11th in the Championship and behind Sheffield United in League One in terms of crowd figures. Rangers are not even among the six best-supported clubs in London — Charlton Athletic are bigger, too — so while Park Ji-sung may have been a free transfer from Manchester United, for a club of QPR’s size, he won’t exactly have been a bargain. The same goes for Jose Bosingwa.

On Saturday, as Rangers lost again at Stoke City, Hughes’s agent, Kia Joorabchian, could be seen behind Fernandes in the directors’ box.  Joorabchian has excellent contacts in South America. Players from that country, however, rarely come cheap. Hughes’s link to Joorabchian — which was also a feature of his time at  Manchester City — will only cement his reputation as a manager whose tastes cost.

Fine, if Rangers were where West Ham are now. The club went the extra yard to get Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Matt Jarvis for manager Allardyce but have reaped the rewards with an impressive start to the season. As QPR and West Ham are seen to have shared ambitions this season, while Fernandes’s project remains stalled, Hughes looks increasingly like a manager whose judgment is not worth the coin.

The fall from grace in modern football can be savagely swift. Hughes’s c.v. affords old-boy status at some of Europe’s greatest clubs — Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and  Bayern Munich — and when his early  managerial career showed such promise, it was widely presumed that he would walk back through the door at one of them as more than a guest some day.

Down and out? QPR sit bottom of the Barclays Premier League and Hughes must quickly pick up his troops

Down and out? QPR sit bottom of the Barclays Premier League and Hughes must quickly pick up his troops

Down and out? QPR sit bottom of the Barclays Premier League and Hughes must quickly pick up his troops

Yet mired in crisis at Loftus Road his stock among the great, the good, even the panicking wildly, slumps by the game.This is a sudden and unexpected shift in fortune. There was a time not so long ago when Hughes was well regarded by Roman Abramovich or seen as a potential successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. Not any more. The United link ended with his time at Manchester City and the bad blood around the Tevez acquisition but not even a long list at Stamford Bridge would contain his details these days.

From here, he makes Rangers work or slips from view.

Unemployable is a harsh term, but think on it. Hughes walked out on Fulham because the club did not share his ambition, so does not seem the ideal fit for a team intent on survival or outside the top division. He has worked at an elite club, Manchester City, and that did not end  happily with serious money spent, and he has worked with an up-and-comer in  Rangers and got them playing more like down-and-outers. What is left?

Even if Hughes wanted to be a run-of-the-mill Premier League Mr Average, would any chairman take a chance? Before Rangers, certainly before Fulham, there was sympathy and support in abundance. Hughes was considered the fall guy for the new regime at City, saddled with a project that wanted to run before it could walk. Robinho arrived without his knowledge and the doomed deal for Kaka rebounded on the image of the club more than the manager. As the deal fell apart, the only figure whose  credibility remained intact was the quiet, diligent Hughes. When he was replaced, equally clumsily, by Roberto Mancini, he left in credit.

So QPR was thought a highly suitable project. Yes, there was another hurried rebuilding job to be done, but this time no galactico egos needed to be stroked. Having felt let down at Fulham, here was a perfect third way. Not too big, not too small, Rangers were just right; or so it seemed. Now Hughes is in a fight to the finish; literally, perhaps, if he fails to win on Saturday. This is bigger than even the six-pointer of cliche.

Still, it’s not all bad news. In case you hadn’t noticed, Joey Barton’s 12-match ban is up.

Deaths in Brazil should haunt us

There were 140 people murdered in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo in the last two weeks. That’s not crime; that’s a war. Britain has lost 43 in Afghanistan this year.

A crackdown on drug gangs in the build-up to the 2014 World Cup is blamed for the violent escalation, but not to worry. There is absolutely no mileage in warning against risk at major sporting events these days. To do so is to invite an accusation of colonial prejudice or worse. No doubt Sao Paulo will be safe as houses by the time you turn up and the state has finished with the bad guys.

It would have been nice had they been so committed to protecting their own people from gangsters without FIFA’s circus coming to town but as the saying goes,  that’s football.

If England lose out on Zaha, so be it

Jack Wilshere no doubt felt he was being supportive of his manager, Arsene Wenger, when he said his England call-up had come too soon. Unfortunately, his words made quite the opposite case. ‘The last time I played for England was under Fabio Capello,’ Wilshere said. ‘Now there’s a new manager and new staff. I don’t know their thinking, their tactics and whether I would fit in.’

Exactly. So even if Wilshere plays for one half in Sweden, even if he does not play at all, just  training would be a learning experience. It would have been a wasted opportunity for Roy Hodgson to leave him at home and, surely, despite his  protests, Wenger understands this.

It is different for Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, promoted from the Under 21s. Zaha has still not made up his mind whether to declare for England, where he was raised, or the Ivory Coast, where he was born.

National service: Wilfried Zaha
National service: Jack Wilshere

Young Lion... but for how long? Wilfried Zaha (left) joins Jack Wilshere (right) at England training on Tuesday

Maybe Hodgson thinks once he gets the taste of the senior international scene, his mind will be made up. Zaha, who has also turned down  representing the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations, sounds in something of a quandary.

England are playing a dangerous game. Zaha could reject Hodgson’s overtures, which would be embarrassing, or he could accept them for the wrong, perhaps commercial, reasons, while secretly wishing he had chosen his motherland.

There may then be trouble ahead. Zaha won’t be at Crystal Palace for ever, and a player who does not feel a true connection with his national team is more likely to listen to the interests and  priorities of his club management.

Wenger made those clear this week. It would be better to let the young man decide his international future and if England lose out, so be it.  Better that than complications, or a lack of  commitment, down the line.

So Chelsea’s stats add up. Go figure

So Chelsea shuffled some transfer numbers, converted loans to equity, didn’t sack the manager to trigger a massive compensation payment, put the odd superstar of European football on next year’s budget, and hey presto, a profit of £1.4million was turned for the first time since Roman Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge.

This is the baby step towards compatibility with financial fair play. Good for them: just as long as they don’t now start demanding every other club with ambition is slung out of the Champions League for financial doping. Although don’t bet against it.

(By the way, the fact that a recent report shows Chelsea now have the fourth highest shirt sales in the world — outselling all bar Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid — suggests book balancing will happen over time anyway, without the need to skew the competition in favour of the wealthiest as FFP will surely do. Manchester City are 17th now but, in time, will rise. It wasn’t so long ago that Chelsea trailed the established order of Liverpool, Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Juventus, too.)

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