Despite being the youngest manager in the Welsh Premier League, Aberystwyth Town FC boss Ian Hughes, 30, is more than ready for the task ahead as his side prepare for a return to the European stage. "It's a great challenge for myself to go up against probably some of the best managers in Europe," Hughes told UEFA.com. "It's something I've dreamt of from a young age."
Promoted by the club from coach to manager last summer, Hughes has enjoyed an incredibly successful first season in charge, with Aberystwyth reaching the Welsh Cup final and qualifying for the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League as runners-up in the process.
"It's fair to say the ambition of the club probably wasn't to get into Europe this season," explained Hughes. "But when I was offered the job, I knew the players at the club and I knew that if we could strengthen in a couple of areas we would improve. Obviously, things go on during the season and we now find ourselves preparing for the UEFA Europa League. It's a great achievement by the players."
Hughes believes in his ability, in spite of his tender years. "I've been coaching since I was 15," he noted. "Going into the club as an assistant helped me – if I had gone in first of all as a manager, without people understanding and knowing what I was all about, potentially it may have been different. But there has been no problem at all, as I was able to forge relationships with certain players prior to taking the job.
"From a young age, it's something that I've wanted to achieve. I set myself certain targets in my personal life as well as in my professional life that I want to try and reach, but to be managing in the UEFA Europa League at the age of 30 is exceptional."
Hughes was denied silverware earlier this month when Aberystwyth lost 3-2 to champions The New Saints FC in the cup final. However, his team have posted other successes this term. Chris Venables had put Aberystwyth two up in that match, a week after becoming the first midfielder to win the Welsh Premier League's top scorer award with 24 goals. His tally is testament to the attacking philosophy that Hughes has instilled, and it is one that has also been appreciated at the turnstiles.
Attendance figures have increased by over 20% at Aberystwyth this campaign, with the club registering their highest average crowd for a decade. "The attacking style of football that Ian Hughes has brought is popular with the supporters," said marketing director Thomas Crockett. "The players and management have regularly paid tribute to the support, which has helped ensure the club also has the second-best home record in the Welsh Premier League."
Aberystwyth last competed in Europe in 2004, and with work scheduled to start on extensive stadium development plans over the summer, they have ambitions to become regular players on the continental stage. In Hughes, they may have found the right man to turn that dream into reality.
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