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Jan 21, 2008

Hughes exit would have 'devastated' Rovers - Friedel

Kevin Keegan's abrupt return to Newcastle last week was good news for more than just the Geordie faithful, no doubt still rejoicing.

Blackburn keeper Brad Friedel said losing Mark Hughes, at one time the bookies favourite to replace Sam Allardyce in the Northeast, would have left Rovers 'devastated' and hampered their quest to land a European, and perhaps even a Champions League spot.

Instead, Hughes, frequently tipped to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford when the Scot steps down, took his usual spot on the touchline at Ewood Park in Saturday's 1-1 Premier League draw against Middlesbrough.

Hughes is one of the top dozen managers in world football, claimed Friedel.

'He's a tremendous manager, and I have obviously been around the block and seen a lot of them,' said the American, who played under Graeme Souness at Blackburn, and Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans at Liverpool.

'The whole staff has to be among the top three or four in the Premier League, and I would put Mark in the top 10 to 12 in the world. I do mean that.'

Friedel, an ever present in Blackburn's lineup, said it was a combination of factors including, but not limited to, tactical awareness, man management - apparently based on the premise of tough love - and an ability to spot a bargain that make the former Wales boss so valuable.

For instance, Rovers' back four of captain Ryan Nelsen, towering Frenchman Christopher Samba, former England youth international Stephen Warnock and Dutch international Andre Ooijer was assembled for a reported cost of just £4 million, with Kiwi Nelsen a free transfer and fellow centre back Samba moving from Hertha Berlin last January for £400,000.

Furthermore Roque Santa Cruz, joint sixth in league scoring with 10 goals after a run that would make Cristiano Ronaldo proud, was plucked from Bayern Munich for a reported fee of £3.5 million, while England winger David Bentley has blossomed under Hughes.

'Day to day, I think Mark's philosophy is, 'I want to make the player better,' Friedel said.

'He managed to impose a no-excuses policy. The less excuses you give a player, then the player can only, at the end of the day, look in the mirror and say, 'Have I done enough'? That's what he does.

'Being the manager of Wales and with us, what he has done is huge. You tell me one other manager in the Premier League that spent less in the transfer market but does as well. I'll be amazed if someone does it.'

The effect is long-lasting, even to those who depart, according to Friedel.

'Players who leave Blackburn, you speak to them after a few months when they are at a different club and ask them how things are there,' Friedel said. 'They always say the same thing: 'You don't know how good you have it on a day-to-day basis with the staff there.'

Friedel and company are unbeaten in five league games, a sequence sandwiched around a humbling 4-1 home defeat to Coventry in the FA Cup - the unbeaten run came following a sticky patch of one league win in eight.

Currently ninth, Rovers trail Everton by five points in the race for fourth, though Liverpool can reclaim that spot with a win over Aston Villa tonight at Anfield.

'Fourth is a possibility. Since our gaffer took over, we've been strong finishers in the league, which bodes well for us,' Friedel said. 'We are in the mix for a European place. What European place that is, who knows?'