Europa League: Aberystwyth Town's experienced young coach

By Aled WilliamsBBC Wales Sport
Aberystwyth Town in action against The New Saints in the Welsh Cup final
Aberystwyth Town qualified for Europe despite losing to The New Saints in the Welsh Cup final

He has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in World football - now Ian Hughes is targeting European success with Aberystwyth Town.

Hughes is one of four managers from the Welsh Premier League who have been undertaking their Uefa Pro Licence courseexternal-link alongside the likes of Patrick Vieira, Craig Bellamy, Sol Campbell and Tim Sherwood.

Courses are held at Wales' National Football Development Centre at Dragon Park in Newport, where Hughes is a coach education co-ordinator with the Football Association of Wales Trust.

"It's great to have so many different types and people of different backgrounds on our qualification courses," Hughes says.

"It's fantastic that the younger generation of Welsh managers can learn from the experiences of others.

Ian Hughes
Ian Hughes succeeded Tomi Morgan as Aberystwyth Town manager in May 2013

"And who better to learn off than the names mentioned?"

The youngest manager in the Welsh Premier League's history, 30-year-old Hughes' Aberystwyth side are away to Derry City in the Europa League first qualifying round first leg on Thursday.

Hughes, originally from Anglesey but now living in Cardiff, may be a managerial rookie but his coaching experience goes back 15 years.

He was still a teenager when he spent a week's work experience with Anglesey's then football development officer, and now Wales assistant manager, Osian Roberts.

Since then, Hughes has worked alongside Roberts for a number of years, and says he has been a big influence on his career.

Hughes gained his coaching qualifications as well as a sports science degree before working as a football development officer and then became a coach with Llangefni Town.

After moving to Aberystwyth, he became part of the local Welsh Premier League side's coaching staff and worked under successive managers Alan Morgan and Tomi Morgan before himself becoming the club's manager.

"I learnt a lot of Tomi and Alan and I just felt it was the right moment in time to take that step," Hughes says of his appointment in May 2013.

"I'd worked within the league for the last three or four seasons before that so I had an opportunity to study the league, the players and formations.

"And even though people will say I'm relatively young to be a manager I'd say that I've 15 years' coaching experience behind me."

Hughes was pleased with his first season in charge, although Aber could have finished in the top six had they not been deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player.

Despite losing 3-2 in the Welsh Cup final, the club were also guaranteed European football by virtue of The New Saints having already qualified for the Champions League.

For a club that were founder members of the League of Wales in 1992, Aberystwyth have only played in Europe on two previous occasions, both of which were in the now defunct Intertoto Cup.

Despite the club's limited European experience, Hughes can call on players who have previously played in Europe such as Stuart Jones and Wyn Thomas with Chris Venables and Geoff Kellaway also key players.

Hughes acknowledges his side face a tough test against a Derry team who are 17 games into their season in the League of Ireland Premier.

"We've got many players in our squad that are naturally fit but are they football fit?" Hughes said.

"There's a different type of fitness required to play the game.

"We had three weeks off after the Welsh Cup final and we managed to arrange three games, which has been difficult because other teams in the area are in the off-season.

"I'm quite content with how those three games went so we're looking forward to Thursday night."

Aberystwyth's foray into Europe comes at an exciting time for a club which in February announced a £13m plan to transform their Park Avenue home.

If it receives planning approval the project will also include community facilities, a youth centre and replacing the existing grass pitch with an artificial surface.

Hughes believes the development is central to the club's role within the community and future success on the pitch.

"It would mean a massive difference, not only to the football club, but also to the local community," Hughes said.

"Aberystwyth is a thriving football community and there are some great players from the area.

"The academy has developed some great players that have moved on to professional clubs - Walsall's Tom Bradshaw being one and Alex Samuel going to Swansea the other one.

"It's a hotbed of football and if we can become the hub then that will bode well for us on the pitch."