Canary midfielder Andy Hughes will start the new season 15 points adrift at the bottom of League One after this evening joining Leeds United for “an undisclosed fee”.
The 29-year-old has signed a two-year deal with the crisis-hit Elland Road club and ends what most would describe as a difficult, if big-hearted, two-year spell in Norfolk.
Hughes had long been rumoured to be featuring on Dennis Wise' hit-list – his move north being put on hold whilst Leeds waited for the Football League to return their so-called 'golden share' and with it, the ability to start signing players again.
Alas for Leeds, that same 'golden share' came with a 15-point penalty attached after the Football League ruled that the Yorkshire club were in serious breach of their well-established insolvency rules following a fractious summer going in and out of administration.
Hence Hughes will start the new season on Saturday staring up from the very bottom of the League One pile with the club's fall from the dizzying heights of a Champions League semi-final as recently as 2001 showing little sign of slowing.
“Andy did exceptionally well for us last season, but with Jon Otsemobor coming in it was always going to be tough for him this season,” City boss Peter Grant told the club's official website this evening.
Out of contract next summer, Hughes will have had a conversation with Grant as to where, exactly, his future lay.
The arrival of Otsemobor at right-back – coupled with the potential emergence of Scottish Under-19 international Andrew Cave-Brown as his understudy – ensured that there was likely to be little or no room in his first-choice role as Grant tried to make him at least the master of one position as opposed to a jack of many others.
Likewise the arrival of Jimmy Smith, Darel Russell and Julien Brellier in midfield – added to reports of Grant being in the market for Baggies midfielder Darren Carter and the retrun to full fitness of Luke Chadwick – narrowed Hughes' options in midfield, too.
For all concerned, it may simply have come to the point where a fresh start was simply the best alternative.
“Leeds were able to offer him a longer deal which I didn't feel able to do,” added Grant, paying fulsome tribute to the departing player.
Whatever other charge was laid against him, Hughes was always a popular member of the dressing room. It summed him up when his best 90 minutes in a City shirt came in the midst of an East Anglian derby game last season where big hearts are always the order of the day.
In that 1-1 home draw with Ipswich last April, Hughes' performance deserved the man of the match award and on the basis of everyone always loving a trier, it won him back certain sections of the City support.
For others he was forever to be beyond the pale – the single and enduring symbol of the manner in which they felt that ex-Canary boss Nigel Worthington lost his way in the transfer market in the latter years of his reign.
For the recent mild converts, that certain respect was hard won. All too often he would leave punters in a blind fury as yet another deep cross sailed off in the direction of the corner flag.
“Andy is a fantastic person who we are sad to lose,” said Grant, one of his staunchest supporters for the whole big heart thing. He was also a ferocious trainer – another trait that appeals to managers.
“His quality of character shone through last season and it was, therefore, not right to stand in his way.”
Wise has certainly been busy this week with Hughes' signing being the fourth following the full-time arrival of Danish keeper Casper Ankergren plus that of Curtis Weston and striker Leon Constantine. Ex-Celtic and Villa star Alan Thompson has also signed up for another tour of duty after Kevin Nicholls' abrupt exit midway through last season.
United will certainly need every hand on deck given that they start the new campaign 15 points adrift. Despite an “impassioned” plea by chairman Ken Bates at n appeal hearing in London today, an overwhelming majority of club chairmen and owners voted to uphold the original sentence – the biggest penalty points ruling ever awarded in the game.
Somewhere in the background, Bates still has to shrug the taxman off his back – Leeds owe HM Customs and Revenue over ?7 million in unpaid tax and they weren't prepared to take 'Sorry…' for an answer as Bates, seemingly, twice sold and bought back the stricken Yorkshire club from the administrators, KPMG.
Leeds' response to today's London hearing, as over 75% of the League's 'football family' voted against them, was typically bullish and Bates-like as they slammed the day's judgement as “peverse”.
A club statement added: “[It] defied all logic, and we believe had arisen as a result of a serious misrepresentation of fact by the board of the Football League in their presentation. The only winner is HMRC (Her Majesty's Reveune and Customs) and we believe the full ramifications of Thursday's decision will adversely affect football going forward for many years.
“The club is considering its options, but in the meantime will be concentrating on starting its promotion campaign at Tranmere on Saturday.”
As for the supporters, their tragic opera continues – whether Hughes' arrival this evening will lighten their mood must be a moot point.
“At the moment there is a little shock, an element of being resigned to our fate, and some anger from individuals,” said Rick Duniec, the chairman of the club's supporters' trust told The Guardian.
“Some fans are already looking at the statistics in recent seasons to see how many points we need, first to avoid relegation and then to make a play-off place.”
In fairness, if ever you wanted a big-hearted individual to roll up his sleeves and start digging a club out of a 15-point hole, Hughes is your man. He'll give it a go – just as he always did here.
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