The Monday Profile: Andy Hughes
For Andy (like Mr. Cole, seemingly now known as Andrew) Hughes is surely the epitome, the quintessence, the very embodiment of that well known footballling character – the willing trier.
And yet we could go even further – for in being this, Hughes is perhaps the dictionary definition of the British sportsman in general. Watching Mike Tindall attempt to bludgeon his way through the Argentinian defence last weekend, one is reminded of the lack of flair inherent in UK sport – the sheer bloody mindedness to keep on turning up while Frenchmen and Brazilians and New Zealanders are tip-toeing around us with élan.
OK – James Milner might be a slightly more recognisable example – but within the purview of his website, Hughesie has emerged defiantly from the cookie cutter.
Alan Pardew once described him as possessing “Premier League commitment and enthusiasm” and, in an exchange with the good people from Leeds United blog, The Scratching Shed last year, the commonalities of experience were abundant. At Reading, I witnessed him as a vital cog in a side that crawled up out of the third tier, having narrowly missed out in a play off final to Walsall the year before…and yet, for all his dominance, all his versatility and all his power, there were always flaws.
Most commonly, there was a simple inability to cross the ball. Too many times he would muscle vigorously past his full back opponent only to arc the ball into the arms of a ballboy. Too many times, a pass would be wayward, gleefully snatched upon by a Gary Holt or Vitālijs Astafjevs.
But we forgave him. Landing a long ranger on the top of the bar when he was supposed to return the ball to the opposition summed him up – was it commitment to the cause or did he simply shank it a bit? In one August encounter with Sheffield Wednesday, he utterly ran the show – powering through from midfield like a lo-rent but effective Roy Keane.
That was probably his best position – as a tireless central midfielder – but at most clubs he ended up playing literally scores – indeed, most – of his games out of position. At Reading, he was most commonly employed on the flanks, at Leeds he chalked up a great many matches in defence.
Having been a key player at Oldham and in particular Notts County, he divided the support at the Madejski and there was a fair amount of nipping at Norfolk hands when the Canaries offered a frankly preposterous £500,000 for him in 2005 – the wrong move at the wrong time. Norwich needed more finesse and Hughes’ meat and potatoes approach was not enough – Peter Grant ending up using him in the manner of most of his bosses – as a square peg to plug a round hole.
When he joined Leeds, the club was scrapping its way up through the leagues and experiencing some misfires on the way but Hughes was a key footsoldier throughout the rise. Again though, a defter approach would be needed for a play off challenge and he left Elland Road in January for Scunthorpe, playing 19 times as the Iron plunged a division.
Now at Charlton, he’s one of many new recruits and, despite having reached the age of 33, it would be a brave man to bet against him doing well for a club that has this Saturday ascended to the top of the League 1 pile. A lower league stalwart.