Rather than being fazed by taking over a club sitting second in the Scottish Premiership, new Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager John Hughes yesterday stressed that he is relishing the challenge.
Hughes has urged his players to carry on doing the things they were doing to such good effect under Terry Butcher.
The only dramatic change will involve Hughes’ personal circumstances as he and his family prepare to uproot themselves from East Lothian for a new life in the Highlands. Hughes is making the opposite journey to Butcher, who left the Highland capital to take over at Hibernian last month.
Hughes was, of course, manager at Hibs himself for 16 months before being sacked in 2010, with the club sitting third bottom of the Scottish Premier League. Since then he has had spells in charge at Livingston and Hartlepool, where he lost his job after relegation to League Two at the end of last season.
After signing a two-and-a-half year contract with Inverness yesterday, he claimed not to be surprised to be offered such an attractive opportunity at a club with exciting prospects.
“My record speaks for itself,” he said, after emerging as the preferred candidate to succeed Butcher in what was a competitive field. Alloa Athletic manager Paul Hartley and former Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels were also among those interviewed for the post.
However, Inverness chairman Kenny Cameron confirmed that Hughes was the board’s “unanimous” choice.
“He is an experienced manager which is what we feel is required in the current scenario we have at the club,” said
Cameron. “He greatly impressed all the directors with his knowledge of the club, his passion and philosophy for the game.
“John has been chosen from a high-calibre shortlist who were a pleasure to interview. We took our time about the appointment as it was important to obtain the right fit for this stage of the club’s development. John was the person who met our criteria. He has already spoken to the players and made a very positive impact.”
Hughes has assured his squad that he won’t be ripping things up and starting again. “At this moment in time, Inverness are doing very well, playing great football and scoring goals,” he said. “It is my job to get them to carry on and make sure the players go out there and play with a free spirit.”
“It is a case of getting them to carry on doing what we are good at,” he added. “It is the same with training. The characters in the dressing room know there is a standard at this club with the way they train and conduct themselves. That is why they are doing what they are doing and we just want them to carry on and keep it going.
“The best I can hope for is that if you were to interview any of my players over the next couple of months and they turn round and say ‘it is like Terry Butcher is still here’. If it remains business as usual then I know I have done a real good job.”
Hughes said he wasn’t cowed by the need to maintain Inverness’ good form. They have won five consecutive matches to re-establish themselves in second place, just five points behind leaders Celtic.
Not even Butcher’s departure has shaken their resolve. Two of these victories have come under Duncan Shearer, the current youth coach. Hughes knows that it is impossible to maintain such a winning run of form but he will be expected to keep Inverness challenging for the position of best of the rest. He must also seek to steer the club into the first major cup final in their history against Hearts at Easter Road in a League Cup semi-final clash in February.
Hughes has not yet decided whether to take his place in the dugout or watch from the stand and leave Shearer in charge against St Mirren on Saturday.
The manager said he would also take his time before appointing an assistant. Long time partner Brian Rice is reported to have encountered gambling debt difficulties while coaching in Qatar. Hughes has not ruled out appointing somebody already employed by Inverness as he seeks to ensure a smooth transition between Butcher’s reign and his own.
“That is something that may have fazed one or two people but for me it inspires me,” he said yesterday. “I want to take up that challenge and carry on the good work that Terry has done. I want to bring success to the club. Through all my experiences in football – the good, bad and indifferent – everything has been an education and Inverness are getting a really experienced manager.
“I am a better manager from 11 years ago, from the first day I started,” added the 49 year-old. “As you get on you mellow, you are more methodical in your thinking. You have a different outlook. That comes with experience of handling situations.
“I feel I have a personality that will suit the club,” he added. “My message to the Inverness supporters is they are getting an honest, hard-working guy.”