Liverpool have just appointed man who quotes Xavi and does not want Jose Mourinho football

Richard Hughes is getting to work as Liverpool's new sporting director
-Credit: (Image: Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)

When Richard Hughes was technical director of Bournemouth, an email containing three different videos was dispatched in an effort to entice potential transfer targets.

The first centred around the club itself, focusing on the technical elements that had turned the Cherries from a struggling lower league side into an upwardly mobile and ambitious Premier League outfit. The career development they were also able to boast for those who had previously joined was another key component, while the unique selling point was the area itself, with footage of what was no doubt beautifully shot south-coast scenery sent out to prospective employees who otherwise might not have been able to point out Bournemouth on the map.

Hughes came to refer to this way of recruiting as "playing your trump cards", saying: "Those videos were packaged up and sent into circulation so that if you're fighting off other top clubs for Lloyd Kelly, for example - and with respect to our club - you're not going to be able to show off the trophy cabinet or the amount of Champions Leagues, but you can focus on geography, development and pathways."

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If Hughes is to reprise the technique for transfer targets in his new role this summer, it's easy to imagine the type of footage he will be able to piece together now as the sporting director at Liverpool. It promises to the quite the package

Richard Hughes is one third of what is a totally new operation at Anfield this summer, arriving as sporting director alongside head coach Arne Slot and Fenway Sports Group's 'CEO of football', Michael Edwards, who is essentially replacing FSG president Mike Gordon as the day-to-day head of the club itself.

It speaks to how highly-regarded Hughes was in his previous role on the south coast that Edwards, previously one of the most vaunted and well-connected sporting directors around, headhunted the former Scotland midfielder as soon as he was given the green light to recruit for the role he left after the 2022 Champions League final.

The pair have a working relationship that spans two decades and was one that began when they first crossed paths at Portsmouth when Hughes was a tough-tackling midfielder who racked up yellow cards with wild abandon and Edwards was a curious backroom analyst with an interest in data and statistics.

"The key to good recruitment is good communication from the leader down," Hughes told Bournemouth's official website back in 2020. With Edwards now acting as his new line manager, that comment bodes well for Liverpool given the pair share a long-standing and positive relationship.

"How you recruit a player, it clearly varies club to club and everyone will have their own policy," Hughes revealed. "But it is my belief that the key to a signing is that the manager is a key part of that recruitment process, that's what we've always had but it's also true that that manager can't be in multiple places at one time.

"So if [the manager] is preparing for a game tomorrow it's unlikely he will get to cover the six or seven Championship games going on. That's why it is someone else's job to make sure it is done properly. So that is what the job is and the better the understanding between the person doing my job and the person picking the team and coaching the players then one would assume the better the chance for success.

"It buys no guarantee because the magic question is: 'How is that player going to do at this club, with these team-mates, for this manager in front of these fans at this time?' It's an impossible question to ask fully because you're in the lap of the gods a lot of the time but if you narrow the chances for mistakes by doing your homework correctly, making sure you need that position, then there are all sorts of things you can do to limit the mistakes and ensure there are more good signings than bad ones."

An AC Milan season ticket holder who grew up in Italy and turned down the chance to join the Rossoneri's youth ranks as a junior, Hughes's early years helped foster his love of Serie A that still endures in a professional capacity. It's been retold how Hughes would love chatting to Edwards about Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker during their time with Roma, while it was his knowledge of the Italian game that saw him try to bring Roberto De Zerbi to the Vitality before a lag in ownership change allowed Brighton to steal a march.

It's why links to Bologna defender Riccardo Calafiori intrigue and why his bulging contacts book across Spanish football - one that helped him recruit current Cherries boss Andoni Iraola - could help open up a relatively new lane for the Reds to explore this summer, one that hasn't really been assessed extensively since the days of Rafa Benitez.

In his role at Bournemouth, it was simply not good enough for his team to protest ignorance at the emerging players across the country. If the manager asked Hughes and his team about the possibility of bringing in a player, for example, or what knowledge they had on someone who the then Bournemouth boss might deem to be an interesting prospect, it was imperative the recruitment staff were able to relay at least some information on the potential target.

As a result, Hughes's relatively streamlined department of around a half dozen scouts were assigned a number of clubs across the rest of the professional pyramid for them to keep tabs on. Ninety-one other clubs in total were subsequently divided up to ensure Hughes at least knew where the buck stopped if a promising talent slipped through the net. The process involved being significantly across all age groups of the teams assigned to provide accountability and the theory was that Bournemouth would be better suited to make decisions quicker than their rivals if a young player who they had watched extensively at youth level was now on the cusp of first-team football.

With Liverpool continuing their proactive and aggressive drive to bring in the finest teenage talents across the country, a similar process could be introduced into the working practices that have already seen the Reds add the likes of Kaide Gordon, Ben Doak and Trey Nyoni to their ranks in recent years. A "man-marking" approach to scouting, as Hughes calls it.

While Edwards's legend was only furnished by his famously low profile during a wildly successful stint as sporting director between 2016 and 2022 - a period where the Reds transformed their squad and won every top-level trophy under Jurgen Klopp - Hughes is already on record detailing his own philosophy on certain aspects of the game and the man who grew up as a Celtic fan, while idolising the great Milan sides of the 1990s, is not without his own take on how the game should be enjoyed.

“Jose Mourinho is an outstanding manager and a very successful one," Hughes told the Bournemouth Echo in 2014. "Everybody has an opinion on what the game represents, how it should be played and how they would like it to be played so each to their own.

“I would choose to watch a team that plays the style of Bournemouth rather than the type of football that Chelsea chose to do in a couple of high-profile games. When you have the abundance of talent they can call upon, you owe the game something different. That is just my perspective.

“A quote from (then Barcelona midfielder) Xavi from a few years ago has always stuck with me and he said: ‘There has to be something bigger than winning or losing because, sometimes in a football match, the result can be an imposter, there has to be a legacy'. The teams people will look back on and do already are the ones which play a brand of football which interests millions and gets them talking and analysing all round the world.

“Whatever people may think of Pep Guardiola, what he did at Barcelona revolutionised the game and nobody could ever get bored watching his teams. I don’t think there is a lot to learn from teams which stick 11 men behind the ball and just park the bus."

Having suitably impressed at Bournemouth, Hughes is now tasked with leaving his mark at Liverpool, in the biggest role of his career. It's unlikely he needed an emailed video of the Merseyside skyline to entice him, either.