Last updated : 08 January 2006 By Ed

Hughesie article in The Sunday Telegraph:

Sir Alex Ferguson finally caught up with the culprit behind the 'hairdryer' description of his dressing-room dressing-downs the other night and gave him a meaningful if playful clip around the ear.

Ferguson had just discovered that Mark Hughes was the man responsible for what has become a metaphor for the Manchester United manager's fabled up-close-and-personal haranguing of any player who falls below the standards he demands. "I'd kept it quiet for 12 years but he found out and let me know at the Man City-Spurs match," Hughes smiled.

A lion on the pitch, Hughes was always the quiet one off it but, while the likes of Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce readily expressed their opinions in the Old Trafford dressing-room, the Welshman kept his counsel and began formulating his own managerial ideas.

It is a measure of Blackburn's progress under Hughes that they meet United in Wednesday's home leg of their Carling Cup semi-final from a position of strength that few outside his office would have thought possible when he became manager 16 months ago.

A team that laboured long against the threat of relegation and still longer to counter wounding allegations of strong-armed tactics, dare now to contemplate the prospect of European football.

Hughes identifies Blackburn's 2-1 Premiership win at Old Trafford in September - United's only home defeat of the season - as the turning point. "We felt the way to turn people's opinions was by winning matches and we've been doing that," Hughes said. "Old Trafford was the best stage to start. From then on, people took notice."

Hughes hasn't adopted all of Ferguson's methods ("People know when I'm angry, I don't have to throw teacups"), but he sets the sort of standards demanded at United for almost two decades. They challenge not only players' ability but also their application.

"You know when you play for United that it's very demanding and you have to be strong mentally," Hughes said. "Here we try to create a no-excuse environment and the players have responded." Hughes's success has inevitably elevated him in the shortlist of candidates to succeed Ferguson at United, but the former Wales manager said: "I don't anticipate there's going to be a vacancy for many years. I get mentioned because I'm a Premiership manager and I used to play for United."