Why Hughes needs his stars to turn up May 24 2004
By Paul Abbandonato, The Western Mail
ic Wales, UK
May 24 2004
THIS time last year, 17 of Mark Hughes’ players suddenly found they
didn’t know the way to San Jose and pulled out of the “meaningless”
friendly against the United States in California.
Wales, at the time, were top of Euro 2004 Group Nine, having won four
games out of four in their bid to reach Portugal.
Hughes wanted to use the Californian clash to build on the team spirit
and buzz generated from that brilliant start and to work on new ideas
for the second half of the qualifying campaign.
His plans were shot to pieces when one by one the stars withdrew from
the US game. Coincidence or not, Wales did not win another match in
the race for Portugal.
Hughes has never said so in public, but privately he has confided to
being stung by what happened before that San Jose match and believes
it had an impact upon Wales’ Euro 2004 fate.
Roll on 12 months and Hughes will be hoping he is treated a bit
better this time around as Wales prepare for two more “meaningless”
May friendlies, first away to Norway on Thursday and then against
Canada in Wrexham on Sunday.
Meaningless? The sort of word Sir Alex Ferguson and a few other
Premiership managers would give to Wales friendlies.
And, to be fair, in the grand scheme of things the results of Norway
v Wales and Wales v Canada will mean next to nothing.
But just as Hughes wanted the US match to try out things – something
he was unable to do in the end – so he has handpicked these coming
games for a reason.
A Thursday night in Oslo and a balmy spring Sunday afternoon at the
Racecourse would appear at this stage to have little bearing on the
intensity and passion of our coming World Cup qualifiers with England,
Poland, Austria, Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan.
But what Hughes learns in the next few days could actually hold the
very key to our hopes of qualifying for Germany 2006.
And that is why Hughes, already shorn of John Hartson, probably Simon
Davies and play-off finalist Andy Melville, needs the rest of his
first-choice XI around him to work upon and implement his ideas.
So, what are these ideas? A bold new way of playing?
Four-three-three instead of Hughes’ rigid 4-5-1 system?
Ryan Giggs as a central midfield playmaker?
No. Hughes has gone hi-tech and scientific. He wants to know why,
when it comes to double-headed back-to-back games, Wales tend to tail
off in the second of those matches.
Is it down to diet? The hour at which his team train? What time they
fly to and from matches?
Response and recovery times. These are the issues Hughes will be
looking at after arranging back-to-back friendlies within the space
of a 72-hour time period for the first time I can remember for a
As I say, the results of the games themselves don’t really matter.
The results of what Hughes learns, by doing things a bit differently,
will, come the World Cup.
Hughes has noted that every single World Cup fixture is part of
a double header. Including England v Wales and Wales v Poland
on October 9 and 13, and Wales v England and Poland v Wales the
But he has also looked at what his team have achieved on the five
occasions they have played double-headers during his reign as boss.
Like the Russia play-offs last November, for example. Wales produced
a brilliant performance in drawing in Moscow, only to turn in a
tentative, insipid and weary display four days on at the Millennium
Why, and what can I do to change that, Hughes has been asking himself?
Prior to that, Wales lost to Italy on September 6 and four days
afterwards produced perhaps their worst display of the Euro 2004
qualifying campaign when they only drew with Finland at home.
Why were Wales so awful that night, Hughes has been asking himself?
Even before that, Wales drew with Armenia and lost to Norway in a
double header before World Cup 2002.
They drew with Armenia and the Ukraine; drew with Norway and Poland.
In other words, of 10 double-headed matches played, Wales have yet
to win a single one of them.
And Hughes wants that issue addressed before the World Cup qualifiers
So, with results not really mattering, he will experiment with
preparation of the team for the Norway and Canada games.
He has changed training schedules. He will alter the times players eat.
Instead of flying straight back to Wales after the Norway game and
getting to bed at 3am, Hughes will keep his players in Oslo for an
They will do an extra training session in Norway the following morning
before returning on a mid-afternoon flight.
Changes, Hughes hopes, which will give the players extra stamina,
keep them more refreshed, give them an extra buzz for the second game
It sounds boring and scientific. And to you and me it is. But at the
top level you need any edge you can get.
Hughes’ No 2 Eddie Niedzwiecki has an old motto; fail to prepare
properly and you prepare to fail.
However irrelevant these issues may appear to be, Hughes believes he
has to look at them in his bid to get it right for the World Cup.
Trouble is, if, like the United States last year, most of his stars
don’t turn up, the whole exercise will be rendered pointless.
Many of them didn’t know the way to San Jose. Let’s hope that come
11am this morning, when the Wales squad are due to assemble, most of
the World Cup stars to be are there.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress