Mark Hughes tasted Wembley glory with Man United and Chelsea… now the Welsh manager fancies another visit as Bradford City eye up a Papa Johns Trophy run alongside their League Two promotion push
- Mark Hughes took over as manager of League Two Bradford City in February
- Promotion momentum is gathering with the Bantams unbeaten in seven games
- They resume Papa Johns Trophy campaign against Leicester U21 on Tuesday
- Hughes, 58, believes his squad can compete well on both fronts this season
- After playing at Wembley with United and Chelsea, he hopes to manage there
Mark Hughes was fortunate enough to grace the Wembley turf on numerous occasions as a livewire striker.
He won the FA Cup there with Manchester United in 1985, 1990 and 1994, scoring in the latter two, and again in Chelsea colours in 1997.
The Welshman also lifted the League Cup under the Twin Towers with United in 1992 and Chelsea in 1998.
Mark Hughes took over as manager of League Two Bradford City back in February this year
Things are looking up for the Bantams as they gather momentum for a promotion challenge
And who could ever forget his 120th-minute volley in the 1994 FA Cup semi-final to break Oldham hearts, a masterclass of stealthy anticipation and improvised execution?
The national stadium has changed beyond all recognition since then and Hughes has altered a bit too but the allure of a Wembley win remains a powerful one.
Now manager of Bradford City, the 58-year-old wouldn’t mind combining a real crack at League Two promotion with a run in the Papa Johns Trophy.
The Bantams, who are on a seven-match unbeaten run as they gather more and more momentum this season, take on Leicester City’s under-21 team in their second group fixture on Tuesday night.
Having seen off Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 in late August, Bradford can qualify for the knockout stages if they win at Valley Parade.
Hughes celebrates his famous volley in injury time against Oldham at Wembley in 1994
He won the FA Cup four times, including alongside Eric Cantona for Man United in 1994
‘We want to do well in the competition, we had a good start and I am pleased with that,’ Hughes tells Sportsmail.
‘It’s an opportunity for the club and financially it is a motivating factor for us because the prize money is at a good level.
‘Clearly if you end up in a Wembley final, that is a significant amount of money that comes our way so we talked about it before the season started and it was always going to be a competition we would make our best effort in.
‘I was fortunate as a player to have a lot of occasions to go to Wembley and I was grateful for that.
‘You always remember your first cup final [in 1985]. Everyone tells you to always remember everything but you can never do that. Plus you tend to remember the ones you win, not the ones you lose.’
Unsurprisingly, Sparky’s sparkling CV doesn’t feature the Papa Johns Trophy or any if its previous iterations.
Hughes (left) scores at Wembley for Man United in the 1990 FA Cup final with Crystal Palace
Hughes (left) lifted the FA Cup for the fourth time when Chelsea beat Middlesbrough in 1997
Hughes has managed six Premier League clubs but after being sacked by Southampton in December 2018, in his own words, the ‘phone stopped ringing.’
It explains why he dropped down to the fourth-tier to take charge of Bradford back in February, though in so many ways the West Yorkshire club should have a higher stature.
Their average home attendance so far this season is 17,192, almost double that of Swindon Town, the next highest.
Bradford were a Premier League club at the turn of the century but the last two decades have witnessed mostly decline with League Two becoming a familiar habitat.
The 2012-13 campaign was a notable exception to the gloom as they won promotion to League One through the play-offs and also reached the League Cup final, going down 5-0 to Premier League Swansea having dumped out Arsenal and Aston Villa.
But a decade on and optimism around the club is growing once more with Hughes grateful he took up the challenge.
‘There are more opportunities to engage with the players [at this level]. Sometimes it is more difficult at the top level because you get pulled from pillar to post,’ he says.
Bradford’s home attendance in League Two are almost double those of any other club
Hughes knows there is expectation to return the Bantams to a higher level as soon as possible
‘The key part of the job should be that your relationships with players are strong and sound, they understand where you are coming from and they have got the information they need.
‘It gives you more time to understand the group you are working with and that is a positive.
‘We have certainly embraced the expectation. It will always be there, so why try to downplay it? Expectation is a good thing, you should never downplay your ability as a group.
‘So we are optimistic. We have had a lot of turnaround in terms of personnel, there are always a lot of guys leaving your club and ones to replace.
‘But once your group is settled, like they are now, you can get some sustained and consistent work done.
Jake Young signed for Bradford from Forest Green Rovers over the summer
‘You have got to be honest and think, “we are a good side, we have a chance”, so why not mention it and try to fulfil it.’
One of the 17 players Bradford brought in over the summer was 21-year-old forward Jake Young, who arrived from Forest Green on a three-year contract.
His four-goal return in Bradford colours so far included two against Wednesday and it’s given him a taste for the competition.
‘We have to take it seriously. Some teams may not see it that way but we are definitely going for it this year with the depth we have in the squad,’ he tells Sportsmail.
‘The prize money is a big incentive, it’s a great opportunity and something we are looking to go as far as possible in. Hopefully that means Wembley and getting some silverware.
‘The club sells itself. No one needed to tell me that the fanbase and the expectation is massive but we are a squad that thrives off that. Everyone wants to make something special.’
Young, who was a UK top 16 tennis player at the age of 13 before focusing on football, has been bombarded with questions about Hughes and his coaching methods from his Man United-supporting family.
‘There’s no hiding from it, he’s a big name, but it’s someone to learn off and there aren’t many people at this level with that much experience to pass on. So it’s a good thing,’ he says.
Young, 21, has netted four times since his move, including twice in the Papa Johns Trophy
Bradford’s highlights package for the win over Wednesday includes the moment Hughes proved he still possesses a silky touch by performing keepie-uppies on the sidelines when the ball came his way.
He did something similar during their game against Scunthorpe United last season.
‘I can do that all day long, it’s just that I can’t run!’ Hughes jokes. ‘So long as it comes straight to me and I don’t have to move, that’s no problem.’
Perhaps he’ll get one more chance to show off his skills at Wembley too.
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