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Football: Hughes eyed as future United boss.

Byline: PHIL BLANCHE

WALES manager Mark Hughes has been tipped for the Manchester United job - by current boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

United manager Ferguson, who has been at the Old Trafford helm since 1986, has two and a half years left on his contract and he has already said that will be the end of his time in charge of team affairs there.

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, Celtic's Martin O'Neill and European big-hitters Fabio Capello and Ottmar Hitzfeld were linked with the post when Ferguson announced plans to retire at the end of last season.

But Ferguson, who brought Hughes back to British football in 1988 after the striker had spent an unhappy spell at Barcelona, believes the Welshman could succeed him at Old Trafford one day.

``Mark could be a great manager,'' said Ferguson. ``He has been fantastic in charge of Wales.''

Asked whether he was a future United manager, Ferguson replied, ``He's great with the details. He's precise and his tactics are great, but would he want to do it?''

While Hughes admitted he was ``flattered'' by Ferguson's praise, the man who has guided Wales from 107 to 61 in the world rankings over the last two years is unlikely to reveal his hand.

Hughes has agreed a contract with the Football Association of Wales to remain national manager until the 2006 World Cup. After that his future could lie in club management.

And Eric Harrison, a member of the Wales coaching staff who knows Ferguson equally as well from his time as United youth coach, believes Hughes will be a huge success whatever he decides to do.

``Coming from Sir Alex praise such as that is high praise indeed,'' said Harrison, who provided the bedrock of United's success during the 1990s by shaping the careers of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers from a young age.

``But Mark deserves it. His improvement as a manager is nothing short of astonishing.

``The impact Mark has had on Welsh football is incredible. I'm not just talking about results but in terms of preparation and the way the squad goes about its business. We are now so like a club side.''

While Hughes's preparation techniques and attention to detail remind Harrison of Ferguson's methodical approach to football, the Yorkshireman sees another similarity between mentor and protege.

``Mark has got a hard streak, just like Sir Alex,'' said Harrison. ``You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see that Mark had a hard streak as a player.

``He's also got that as a manager, but the only thing that surprised me was that he wanted to become a manager in the first place.

``It's a cut-throat business, but Mark has taken everything in his stride. He looks at every aspect of the job and gives nothing away.

``The coaches - myself, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Mark Bowen when he was there - work closely with Mark on the training field before a match.

``But he will keep things in his head and we worked a full week before the Italian game before he told us and the players what the team would be to play Italy.''

On the United job, Harrison added, ``Mark's tactically astute and I'm sure he will be successful.

``But you can forget the United job for the next few years. That's a massive job and you need a lot of experience to do it.

``You probably do need to be a rocket scientist to do that job!''

CAPTION(S):

SIR ALEX FERGUSON: `Mark's precise and his tactics are great'; QUICK LEARNER: Mark Hughes has impressed Old Trafford with his fast start in management
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Nov 13, 2002
Words:610
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