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Why Liverpool hired Richard Hughes – A football expert who tried to sign 4 of their players

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In appointing Richard Hughes as Liverpool’s new sporting director, Michael Edwards is realising a long-held ambition to work closely with the Scot once again.

The pair first met during their time at Portsmouth, where Edwards had been brought in as an analyst and encountered a club captain with an unusual thirst for football knowledge.

Alongside teammate Gary O’Neil, Hughes would pester the analysts for clips of not only themselves and upcoming opponents, but also teams from other leagues so that they might learn more about the game.

No wonder, then, so many at Fratton Park presumed that, as would turn out to be the case for O’Neil, a career in management awaited Hughes.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Tuesday, January 6, 2004: Aston Villa's Gavin McCann and Portsmouth's Richard Hughes during the Premiership match at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of course, the midfielder opted to go down a different route upon ending his playing days at Bournemouth, with his old teammate and then-manager Eddie Howe suggesting a move into the boardroom.

And that advice has since proven particularly astute, with the 44-year-old carving out an impressive reputation that – far more than any friendship with Edwards – has resulted in his arrival at Anfield.

A surface-level look at Hughes’ record at Bournemouth shows finishes of ninth and 12th in the Premier League, as well as speedy promotion following a relegation that can be considered almost an inevitability for a club punching so far above its weight.

An ability to identify undervalued talent has been key to those successes, with the likes of Philip Billing, Nathan Ake and Dominic Solanke standing out as the most shrewd acquisitions of recent years.

Hull City's Andrew Robertson - Picture by Simon Galloway PA Archive/PA Images

Hughes also regularly caught Liverpool’s attention in this time by rivalling them for players such as Lloyd Kelly, Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez and Harvey Elliott.

A lifelong Celtic fan, the former Scotland international had even tried to pinch Virgil van Dijk from under Southampton‘s noses in 2015.

And, though this audacious move ultimately failed, it served as proof to Edwards that his old friend had evolved to become a wily operator in the transfer market.

With the two men’s paths also regularly crossing at Premier League meetings, an insight into Hughes’ strengths and weaknesses was also offered up down the years.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 17, 2024: Liverpool's (L-R) chief executive officer of football for Fenway Sports Group Michael Edwards, club secretary Danny Stanway , Ian Rush, non-executive director Kenny Dalglish during the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. Man Utd won 4-3 after extra-time. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That only resulted in a growing admiration that saw Edwards recommend his former colleague to a number of top European clubs as part of his consultancy role with Ludonautics.

But, having not been taken up on that advice, he has now been able to bring in a man who he believes is the perfect fit to lead Liverpool’s recruitment staff in much the same way he did between 2015 and 2022.

That is a sporting director with true football expertise much like himself, rather than an operations-focused executive such as Dan Ashworth or John Murtough, and a calmer figure who can complement his own combativeness.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, March 14, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg match between Liverpool FC and AC Sparta Praha at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of course, any true judgement of this appointment must be withheld until the end of a pivotal summer in which Liverpool’s most pressing concern is finding a successor to the seemingly irreplaceable Jurgen Klopp.

And whether that be Xabi Alonso, Ruben Amorim or Roberto De Zerbi, it feels like there is little room for error on Hughes’ first big call.

READ: Michael Edwards explains why Richard Hughes is “right person” for Liverpool job