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First team

Special feature: Richard Hughes on recruitment

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Cherries fans will primarily know Richard Hughes for his two spells, six years and 185 appearances in AFC Bournemouth colours, but since his retirement, the former midfielder has moved from performing on the pitch to trying to source players from around the world to do likewise.

Unseen on a matchday, Hughes leads the Cherries’ never-ending search for new players, looking to sustain and improve a team fit to fight it out at the highest level of English football. 

With the summer transfer window in full flow and the rumour mill beginning to turn into overdrive, Hughes explains a bit about his role at the forefront of recruiting the next Cherries stars of the future working alongside Eddie Howe to find the right fit for AFC Bournemouth.

“The role is primarily heading up the recruitment department and having a structure in place which can put players in front of Eddie and his staff, allowing them to make decisions that are going to help in the recruitment of players,” said Hughes.

“Eddie has a high-pressure job that takes up so much of his time, managing a Premier League team, so you need the right people in the right places to minimise the amount of time dedicated to doing the other important parts of the job, recruitment in this case.

“I’m hopefully loading his gun to fire as many good bullets as possible, that’s what I see my main job as. Then I act as the liaison when he makes his mind up, working alongside chief executive Neill Blake in delivering that. There are other layers to it of course and it becomes all consuming and 24/7 if you allow it to.”

Taking over the position five years ago, when Premier League football was both close and very far away, Hughes has seen a growth in his department, with the pool of players available to make the Cherries better shallowing as the quality required has risen.

“We had some really good people then and most them are still here now,” said Hughes of his early time in the job. “But what we didn’t have was a huge department. We were a Championship club with four or five people, Des Taylor as chief scout, Andy Howe and Steve Fletcher working in the scouting side of things and Craig McKee who is now the recruiting co-ordinator who joined at the same time as me.

“It became apparent in my first season in the role that promotion was a real possibility and therefore there wasn’t a period of time to get comfortable, it became of huge priority to identify players that could help us in the Premier League – and this was a gamble we took on because even if we didn’t gain promotion we’d be well-placed in the Championship.”

LITTLE CHANCE TO COME UP FOR AIR

Hughes had a 16-year playing career that, aside from his time with the Cherries, included a youth career at Arsenal and eight years in the Premier League with Portsmouth, with the former midfielder explaining how he made his way into recruitment.

“I didn’t necessarily have ambitions to work in the recruitment side of things when I was a player,” he said. “I was a student of the game, loved analysing the game and loved having an opinion and sharing it with people – and I’ve found myself doing all that in recruitment.”

“Ever since then I’ve had very little chance to come up for air because it’s been one window after another and I’ve learned that it’s a job that never really sleeps, when one window shuts you’re preparing for the next one, especially when you’re working for a manager who’s as demanding for progression as Eddie is.

“We’ve expanded the recruitment department, we scout more widely than we did. We’ve doubled, close to trebled in numbers, though it is still not a huge department for a Premier League club. That cohesion between us all and the fact that we’ve all worked together for a period of time, know the manager as well as people in our position can, it puts us in a good position hopefully to allow Eddie to make more good decisions than bad ones.

“That’s the thing about recruitment, you’re dealing with humans and human performance so all you can do is to be as knowledgeable as possible, have as much information as possible and hope that you make more good decisions than bad.”

SEARCHING FOR CHARACTER AND ATTITUDE

At AFC Bournemouth, ability is only one part of the recruitment puzzle, with the manager looking for players that fit into the club’s ethos off the pitch as well as the well-established style on it. This means that when identifying suitable signings the recruitment team have to do more that just watch a player between the first and last whistle.

Hughes explained: “Here, character and attitude is such a huge aspect of the players we have and the culture that Eddie’s instilled at the club. That means that finding information out about a player beyond what you can see in the 90 minutes is more important. That’s something which we’ve always been big on but we’ve increased our efforts in finding out as much as we can about the individuals that we’re bringing into the building.

“It’s not a science, because in very few cases can you answer exactly what a player is going to be like under a manager at a club at a given time, as well as all the circumstances that affect the happiness, mood and performances of a player.

“They’re all things that to an extent aren’t in your control but you have to have as much information as possible when you make that signing – and hopefully as we’ve gone on and got more experienced in this side of things we’ve been able to do that better than when we started.”

YOU’RE NEVER STOPPING

While fans will have enjoyed David Brooks’ goals, Jefferson Lerma’s challenges and Dominic Solanke’s deft touches over the current campaign, Hughes says that there is little time to appreciate the signings that have been made with the next ones always keenly being worked on.

“Most of the satisfaction you actually get from a signing landing is when the signature occurs,” said Hughes. “By the time the player’s playing a game you don’t look at them as a new signing because you’re working on something else.

“You’re never stopping, if a signing is successful it’s not down to the scouting process alone as there are so many factors going in to how a player plays. Thinking back, some of the signings that I have played a part in, one of them in particular was not a successful one – and I could do this job for another 20 years and wouldn’t make a signing as tough as this one – but it didn’t work out.

“If you become too involved in whether a signing is a success or failure you’re starting to wrestle with things that you can’t completely control and that’s not a good emotion to have.

“Eddie would probably say the same thing, but when you finish playing football there’s no release of adrenaline and emotion like there is when you go and play football. On our side of the fence, especially my one, you can’t control how a player’s going to perform so if you lose too much sleep wondering why something hasn’t worked out you’ll stop doing the job.”

THE TEAM THAT EDDIE BUILT

With his experience at the club and in the Premier League, Hughes is well-positioned to understand both where the side has come from in the whirlwind recent years, but also where it needs to go to maintain its status and progress at the top level, and he spoke about the gradually shifting playing foundations the squad is currently built upon.

“A lot has been made of the journey that this team has been on since Eddie took over in the third tier, back when I was a player,” he said. “I think now for the first time this season Eddie has played teams totally made up of new signings.

“Everyone wants to judge a signing the day they come into the building and on the first game they play, but when you’ve got a management team, as we do here, whose main asset is with the development of players I think you’re better off looking at the product a year and a half and not a week and a half down the line.

“I appreciate that you’re going to be judged by the masses instantly, but the point is that you’re at a point in the club’s history when virtually the whole team are Eddie signings and even though everyone involved in the journey performed a miracle to get us here, the boys that are managing to retain our Premier League status are also doing the same.”

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