One such figure is coach Barry Hughes who was born in Caernarfon on New Years Eve back in 1937, but made his name in the Netherlands where he connected with two of the most-famous figures in the history of Dutch football.
As our previous story explained, it was a journey to the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar that formed the basis for Jess Fishlock's illustrious career, and this path had previously been followed by Hughes as he looked to expand his horizons after coming through the youth ranks at West Bromwich Albion. Moving to the Netherlands in 1960 to play for Blauw-Wit and Alkmaar '54, it was as a coach and manager that Hughes showed his true potential, and between 1965 and 1988 he managed seven different clubs in the Dutch game, which including two spells at both HFC Haarlem and Sparta Rotterdam.
Louis van Gaal and Ruud Gullit are two of the most-established names in the history of the Dutch game. Now back as manager of the national team for a third time, van Gaal's connection to our series of expatriate stories continues as he also played and managed AZ Alkmaar, but it was during his first spell at Sparta Rotterdam in 1980 that Hughes crossed paths with the controversial Dutch coach. “He was already the captain when I arrived,” explained Hughes in 2014.
“He was a midfielder and a good player. He wasn’t the quickest, but he could see situations. I’d heard stories about how he used to go into the manager’s office. When I took over he phoned me to say he wanted to talk about the team. I told him I wasn’t interested in his opinion, and that I needed to form my own view of the players. I took the captaincy off him and I don’t think he liked me because of that! Even though I made him captain again in my third season.”
But while there was tension between Hughes and the opinionated van Gaal, it was a different story when it came to his relationship with Gullit. The hero of the EURO 1988 winning side was signed as a teenager by Hughes at HFC Haarlem for a reported fee of around £1,000 in 1978. Less than a decade later, he would claim the Ballon d'Or as his performances for the national team and AC Milan confirmed his place as one of the true greats in the history of the game.
“I found this diamond called Gullit who had to be polished up,” said Hughes. “But even at 16 I knew he would become one of the greatest players, and I told him so. He was a quality player in a poor Haarlem team. It took me a year to sign him because his dad wanted him to go to school and get his certificate, but he was worth the wait. Then he heads off to Feyenoord, and the rest is history.” Hughes' influence was not forgotten either. “It was my Haarlem trainer, Barry, who taught me the lessons of football,” explained Gullit many years later. Hughes retired to Amsterdam, but sadly passed away in June 2019 at the age of 81.
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