From: Everton - free transfer - July 2001
Record: Played: 13(4) Scored: 0
To: West Ham United - free transfer - December 2002
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: In the wrong place at the wrong time
When you think of some players, even after they've left and sometimes even after they've gone onto bigger
things, you think of them as Watford players. They're just Hornets, forever. Others...well, it's hard to
think of others as Watford players, even as they're pulling on the yellow shirt. If you're wondering which
camp Stephen Hughes falls into, you really ought to visit this site more often.
In some ways, the situation was not entirely of his making. His career stalled at Everton, he was hardly
going to refuse the move to Vicarage Road when Luca Vialli called, nor was he likely to negotiate lower
wages for the benefit of the club. That his arrival unnecessarily added to the already considerable number
of midfielders at the club wasn't really his fault either. In hindsight, he just stumbled into the wrong
place at the wrong time, led by a football club that was doing the same on a much grander scale.
Given those circumstances, he needed a successful run in the team, a chance to build some momentum. We
all needed that, of course...but Stephen Hughes needed it more than most. It didn't happen for us, it
didn't happen for him.
History will probably record him as "useless", or similar. His lack of popularity will be transformed into an
equal lack of talent, adding further strength to fairly pointless and long concluded arguments. History will
be wrong, but it's hardly worth the effort. In truth, Stephen Hughes was indeed useless on occasion...but
he was anonymous with far greater regularity. And, in the main, he was anonymous because his manager had
asked him to play that role, patrolling midfield rather than breaking from it, disrupting play rather than
creating it. Despite frequent criticism, he did it well enough - indeed, he was arguably more impressive
than Paul Okon, a player accustomed to the role. But it didn't suit him, and it
certainly offered few opportunities for building that crucial momentum.
The rest is occupied almost entirely by a groin injury. Stephen Hughes' last first team appearance for Watford was
three and a half months after his arrival...and a full thirteen months before his contract settlement and
departure. Again, hardly his fault; again, not exactly likely to endear him to the faithful, especially
bearing in mind that he'd somehow survived the summer wage-cutting purge.
He was briefly fit in pre-season, fielded by Ray Lewington, a manager who seems to use players in more
familiar and advantageous roles than his predecessor, in a dismal friendly at Brentford in July 2002. And he was fairly
anonymous, randomly aggressive, and would've been sent off for a petulant kick at a grounded opponent
in a competitive game. And then, before you could even start to consider whether that might have been the
start of something, he was injured again. Forever.
It was as if he'd never arrived. Really, he didn't ever arrive. And now he's gone. Somehow,
this exercise cost us an extremely large amount of money. Thanks, Luca.
When Stephen Hughes joined Watford from Everton in that rumour-filled, Italian summer of 2001, there was much talk of him coming back down south to get his career moving again. There's no doubting the talent that first saw him emerge at Arsenal during their double-winning season and saw him move to the Toffees for three million nicker, but with tales of injury-proneness and lack of effort emanating from Goodison, we should really have been a little more pessimistic. Hindsight being the wonderful thing it is, we should have been more pessimistic in general, not just about the boy Hughes, but I digress....
The wretched season that unfolded did so, by and large, without input from Stephen Hughes. It's very easy to forget (indeed, until I revisited the profile of Hughes that I wrote last season, I had forgotten) that there were a few flashes of his skills in that early autumn run of games that started with the Worthington Cup romp against Bradford. I also recall a faultless performance of passing the ball and being a vital cog in midfield with Micah Hyde and David Noble at Grimsby, but that was about the sum of it.
He soon succumbed to what became an almost omnipresent groin injury that required surgery and was ruled out for the rest of the campaign. It got no better this season, as, after a two goal salvo in a pre-season friendly at St Albans, he was soon back in the treatment room and reacquainting himself with the exercise bikes and massage tables. A few half-hearted reserve games later, the door was being pushed closed behind him.
There's been many an injury prone player down the years, and Stephen Hughes certainly won't be the last. However, it's extremely unlikely that any future sicknote will be earning twelve grand a week for the pleasure. Some could call him a parasite, some would say he was unlucky with his injury problems...but there can't be much doubt that the club is far better off without him.