THERE is a familiar feeling around AFC Bournemouth this week – the dawning of a new era.

After a near decade of stability, the past four years have seen constant change at the football club.

Richard Hughes is one of the final major pieces of the jigsaw of the club’s recent success to step aside.

It began in 2020, when Eddie Howe departed, needing to recharge having given everything in his, ultimately unsuccessful, quest to avoid Cherries from slipping back into the Championship.

A host of senior players followed him out of the door, in Simon Francis, Andrew Surman, Artur Boruc and Charlie Daniels.

Star men Nathan Ake, Aaron Ramsdale and Callum Wilson were also sold, as the club looked to rebuild in the second tier.

Former assistant Jason Tindall, a Cherries legend in his own right, took the reins as head coach but would also be out the door a few months later.

Of course, change in terms of playing staff is natural at every club, every year. But this felt like a real change in the feel of a club looking for a new direction.

Players, and even managers, are relatively small cogs in overall machine of a football club. They serve a crucial importance, but everything happens for them at 100mph, the mood and job changing day-to-day, based entirely on match results.

The cogs get bigger as you go up the chain, turning slower, with a focus on how things will turn out in the medium to long term.

The biggest change of all happened little over a year ago, at the very top with Bill Foley taking over the club, as Maxim Demin left after more than a decade.


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Foley injected new money, new vigour and new vision into what could be possible in BH7.

He brought in his own man to join the line of cogs just underneath the owner himself, in Jim Frevola, taking on a new role of president of business.

Hughes kept his technical director title, while long-serving chief executive Neill Blake also remained.

Exactly how the roles of Hughes and Blake have altered, if at all, since Frevola’s arrival is not fully clear.

Hughes took up a recruitment position at the club after retiring in 2014, working with first-team boss Howe to find stars of the future.

The department looked rather different to what it is today. With Cherries in the Championship, Hughes headed up a department which consisted of Steve Fletcher, Andy Howe, Craig McKee and chief scout Des Taylor.

Now, the club’s scouting system has extended worldwide, the recent influx of signings from various leagues highlighting the development among the recruitment department.

Outlining his job as technical director, which he took on in 2016, in an interview with the club’s website in 2019, Hughes said: “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.

“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.”


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So how has Hughes fared in the transfer market?

That question is always going to be a grey area. Fans and onlookers will have their own opinion as to whether a signing has been a success or not.

And no club in the world will ever get every single one right. There are too many variable factors for that to be possible.

But just a look at the list of clubs who have reportedly shown an interest in Hughes in the past few months and years shows he must be doing something right.

Liverpool, Celtic, Roma and Newcastle United are among some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Whether Hughes ends up in a top role at a club such as that remains to be seen, but it certainly appears he will not be short of offers.

Since 2014, Cherries have spent around £460million in transfer fees, bringing in around £180m.

Some bigger money deals have not worked out, in the likes of Jordon Ibe, Benik Afobe, Lys Mousset and Diego Rico, but the club still managed to recoup some decent fees for some of them. Hamed Traore, currently out on loan, is another who could potentially fit into that bracket.


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But during that spell there are many names which have performed excellently on the pitch, some turning big profits in the likes of Wilson, Ramsdale, Ake and Arnaut Danjuma.

Some criticism will come from seeing some star players leave on free transfers. Jefferson Lerma and Jordan Zemura did so last summer, while there is an increasing chance Lloyd Kelly will do the same this year. Ryan Fraser also left for nothing.

The club decided it was more beneficial to keep Lerma and Kelly in particular at the club to help preserve the Premier League status, than sell them for less than they wanted to.

It should also be noted the club turned a profit in the year after they were relegated, acting shrewdly in the transfer market, doing enough to get the club back into the riches of the Premier League in Demin’s final months at the helm.

It is always going to be matter of opinions.

Speaking on the Official AFC Bournemouth podcast in November 2020 about criticism of the club’s transfers, Hughes said: “Post-promotion from the Championship to the Premier League (in 2015), the average age of the team meant eventually we would have to recruit and replace.

“When you’re doing that at the sharpest end, in the sharpest league in the world, it is always a challenging situation. You are clearly going to have to recruit more.

“Therefore, by pure statistics and numbers, there are going to be ones that are not necessarily successful, because no-one is going to get 100 per cent right. Some people say if you get two out of three right, you’re doing well.

“If you’re signing 20 players and a third of that could be a failure, generally speaking it’s a success.”

He added: “I think the most misleading stat out there is that our net spend was as high as it was. That was a particularly annoying stat for me to try and tell everyone how misleading it was, just because the level of investment that had to be made to make us competitive.”


Bournemouth Echo: Andoni Iraola is presented to media as Cherries' new boss

Another big legacy Hughes leaves behind is his role in recruiting Andoni Iraola.

The club made a big call in parting ways with O’Neil, Hughes’s former Portsmouth teammate, taking a new path under sought after Iraola, who had just left Rayo Vallecano.

Speaking in September 2023, owner Foley told the Men in Blazers podcast Hughes was the driving force behind the decision.

He said: “When we had the opportunity, it came to us from Richard Hughes, our technical director. He came to myself and to Neill Blake, the CEO, and then we started talking about it.

“I said if we don’t do this now, we may never have the chance to do this again.

“First I listened to Richard Hughes and to Simon Francis, one of his top assistants.

“They were intrigued by Andoni. They convinced Neill Blake that this was a move that we have a chance to do, we have a chance to make and if we don’t make this move, we’re going to regret it in the future.

“That’s really all they had to tell me.

“If I’ve made a mistake, it’s on me, I’ll take responsibility, because I was involved in the decision-making process.”


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So how big a hole does Hughes’s departure leave?

The club in previous years have understandably been criticised for seemingly not having a plan when it comes to changes in head coach.

The same cannot be said for this situation, which has been rumbling on for months. The club were increasingly expecting Hughes to depart and the succession plan has already been laid out.

Francis, who is currently working as assistant to Hughes, will use his three years of experience in the role to take on that mantle.

Blake, who Hughes this week described as a “top tier CEO”, is also still in his role, which will help with the continuity ahead of the summer and beyond.

When Howe was in charge, he would play a big role in all aspects of what was happening at the club, including which players he would want to come through the door.

Since his departure, the club have moved even more towards the same model the vast majority of modern day clubs operate with.

Iraola has spoken regularly about how he is not involved in transfer talks, instead Hughes will come to him with the names and unless he has specific reasons to veto the deal, the recruitment team will press on and try to get them done.

Another example of this would be O’Neil outlining how Cherries still signed a lot of the players last summer they had spoken with him about, even after changing head coach.


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Hughes made 185 appearances as a player for Cherries, the majority in his first spell between 1998 and 2002, in the same period as Howe and Tindall played for the club.

They were the first two managers Hughes served as technical director and he admits that helped him early in the role.

Speaking on the Official AFC Bournemouth podcast shortly after Tindall's appointment, Hughes said: “I am very lucky that the only two managers I have had doing this are two people that I’ve known since my teens. Understanding them from a human perspective as well as a football perspective I think is crucial to the job that I do.

“I feel sorry for people in my role that do this, and do a very good job at it at times, with people that they don’t necessarily know as well as I do. Clearly that proves it is not essential, but it gave me a head start definitely.

“Working alongside a manager as successful as Eddie also helps, because he can make bad decisions look indifferent and decent decisions look great.

“It is my belief that the best chance you have of having a successful signing is that the manager is a huge part in that recruitment process. But that manager can’t be in multiple places at one time.

“The better the understanding between the person in my shoes and the person picking the team and coaching the players, one would assume the better the chance for success.”

Hughes of course went on to work alongside Jonathan Woodgate, Scott Parker, O’Neil and Iraola.


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A key skill Hughes brought to the role was his ability to speak multiple languages.

Having spent his childhood growing up in Milan, Hughes speaks fluent Italian, as well as English and some French.

“The biggest attribute I think you can try to have on this side of the fence is communication. That’s internally and externally as well,” said Hughes.

“At times I will be the first face or voice that people hear from the football club, if you communicate in different languages, it clearly helps."

He also spent five years coming through at Arsenal, and has developed contacts and experience on the recruitment side over the past decade.

Francis, naturally, will not have the same level of experience, but will have learnt a great deal from working closely with Hughes in the past few years.


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The 39-year-old’s success on the pitch at Cherries should also not be overlooked, helping the club up from League One and spending five seasons in the Premier League, playing 324 times between 2011 and 2020.

Speaking to the Daily Echo last year, Francis said: “Ex-players at football clubs sometimes get a bad rep.

“I do wonder, do people outside of the club think it’s just because they played there, they give them a job for anything? I couldn’t disagree more.

“I feel that I add value, because I’ve been in this dressing room and I know what kind of players suit this football club and working in recruitment, I think that can only help.

“We are such a unique football club. We’re different to bigger clubs that are in the Premier League, that might not bring ex-players back because they don’t need to.

“But I think this certain football club is so big on that kind of thing and how important that is.”

Hughes himself this week said of Francis taking the role on: “Simon is a true club legend with an unsurpassed knowledge of what it requires to be a success on the pitch for this club and its loyal supporters.”

Cherries is a different club to most in the Premier League. Having someone in the role like Francis should help ensure the right characters are recruited to fit into what this club is all about.

Naturally, it will take Francis some time to fully settle in to having to make the big calls without Hughes by his side.

Having the experience of Blake there will undoubtedly help, while Foley's ambition will make life easier in terms of resources being available. That will however, in turn, lead to more scrutiny.

As for Hughes, his stock has never been higher. In the early years, the genius of Howe allowed him to bed in to his new career and, as Hughes alluded to, any mistakes were less obvious due to the work of the legendary boss. It would not be a surprise to see the two link up again at Newcastle.

It is always a somewhat daunting feeling when a big change is made after so many years.

But Cherries are well placed to ensure they continue on an upward trajectory, even after Hughes’s departure.