It's New Year's Eve in Babbo, a stylishTuscan restaurant in the heart of London.Hughes reluctantly croaks out a few words,before returning to our table and handing overthe cabaret act to the main event: his assistantmanager Mark Bowen.
A rousing rendition of Glen Campbell'sRhinestone Cowboy brings the house down and,this time, Hughes is comfortable in the role ofbacking singer.
London boy: Mark Hughes is putting his stamp on Fulham
'Mark's the only Welshman whocan't sing,' is how Bowen excuses his greatfriend at this private function a leaving partyfor a job he didn't want to leave.
That night, Hughes was just recovering fromthe ignominy of being sacked by ManchesterCity 12 days before. He addresses that periodhere today for the first time.
He never did enjoy losing and has not hadmuch practice at it. The decorated centreforward you can see on YouTube tells his ownstory in moving pictures; you just have to watchhis scissor-kick volley for Wales against Spain ina World Cup qualifier in 1985.
Hughes the player was something else. Strongupper body, bulging thighs, Dalglish-sizebackside, especially useful for rolling tightmarkers. He mastered the art of volleying theball and was a ferocious bully of a player.
Thereis no real modern-day equivalent, probablybecause modern-day officials would not allowone.Hughes the manager is different; more studiousand deep-thinking, although there areglimpses of his old fury, such as when Stoke'sAndy Wilkinson recently smashed intoFulham's Moussa Dembele with a reckless challenge.
We're flying now: Mark Hughes has been impressed with the set-up at Craven Cottage
Then, with injustice surging through hisveins, we see the old Mark Hughes El Toro(The Bull), as he was known in Spain, is reborn.
As we sit on the leather sofa inside his newoffice that looks across the expansive Fulhamtraining ground in Surrey, few of his first-teamsquad would remember his playing days. Hedoesn't take the chance to remind them,because he never trains with them.
MARKED MENMark Hughes picks the players he rates most effective in the Barclays Premier League .
DIDIER DROGBAJust an outstanding centre forward. Would you like to play against him?
CARLOS TEVEZStill the best signing Manchester City have made.
CESC FABREGASYou can watch the way he plays the game all day. Hurts teams.
MICHAEL ESSIENGives Chelsea an extra dimension now he is back. A real enforcer.
JOHN TERRYI know him as a player, know him as a man and like both very much.
NEMANJA VIDICI love the way he plays the game. A winner, like Terry. We've got our own in Brede Hangeland.
'Danny Murphy would remember me, I kickedhim a few times,' Hughes smiles.
'And I playedwith Damien Duff at Blackburn when we wonpromotion and the League Cup.
'But why would they want a grey-haired46-year-old plodding around and getting in theway of training? No chance. Every session ischecked, monitored and assessed.
'We look fortrends. I would impact on the quality of thosesessions. I don't train with them, ever.
'I remember Ron Atkinson used to play in thesessions at Manchester United when he was themanager. Rated himself as a player. It was funny,he called himself Manny Kaltz (the legendaryWest German defender).
'But the game haschanged and moved on. I am forever grateful to Sir Alex Ferguson forpicking me just about every week forManchester United, but it was Germany whereI really discovered that preparation iseverything.
'They left nothing to chance atBayern Munich. At Barcelona, I signed and that was it. Over toyou.
'No house, no car, no help, no language. Isuffered for it. It was a missed opportunity, butthe platform to perform wasn't there. I moved on to Germany, where Bayern hadplayer liaison officers, like we do in thePremier League now.
'Everything was gearedto the athlete being ready for his job on matchday. I brought those memories back with me.That is how it should be. Not pampered, but prepared. We are not reinventingthe wheel at Fulham,but my staff here areterrific; not only thepeople who have come with me, theguys I trust and respect, but theinfrastructure that was already inplace.
'People think 'nice littleFulham', but this club is at the cuttingedge of the modern game. Mark Taylor is head of sportsmedicine and exercise science andhe's the most qualified of his type.Mark and his team can give you theextra one or two per cent thatcan make a difference on a Saturdayafternoon.
'At City, I didn't realise howmuch we had to do until wegot there. Here, I didn't needto change the staff becausethere is quality already. Sothey certainly don't needme getting in the way intraining by trying toshow I can still play. Noway.
'We want qualityevery day; they don't need me going on some ego trip.'
El Toro: Hughes was a ferocious competitor in his playing days
It is an ego that must have beenbruised by his experiences as thehead of the house of fun at ManchesterCity, before being 'relievedof my duties', as he calls it.
For four months after his sackinghe could not watch football. Saturdayafternoons were a miserableexperience.
'I hadn't been out ofwork in my life, ever,' he says.
Heeven took up skiing, to get him outof the country and away from thecommiserations.
'Eventually, I understood it was afeeling of relief that it was over. Iwasn't enjoying it there at theend. I had no bitterness, no regrets,but I was relieved to be away.
'It'sgood to be at a club now where Iam not being pulled in differentdirections.'
He resists the chance to bespecific one of his sons is stillemployed by the club but hisfinal days at City remain a painfulmemory.
'I needed to engagepeople there and quickly and Iprobably didn't engage everyonequickly enough,' he recalls.
'If youdon't take people with you, thenthey can start to work against you.'How was I treated? Overall, doyou mean? At times, I had support.
'At times, I needed support and Ididn't get it. And then there were times when support that was there was withdrawn especially towardsthe end.
'Look, we'd drawn a lot of games too many but we were a teamstill forming. I knew there wasn'tmuch time to get it right, because Isensed they were looking for anexcuse to change it.
'The chairman, Khaldoon AlMubarak, turned up unannouncedfor a surprise visit and it wasobvious they were going to sackme. Then we beat Arsenal 3-0 andChelsea 2-1.
'It was only when welost at Tottenhamwell, they hadbeen looking for that chance. Iwasn't their man, I wasn't theirappointment.'
Frosty relationship: Hughes recalls the moment he knew he was going to be sacked when chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak turned up unannounced one day
So Hughes was a sittingduck, a role that doesn'tsuit him.
'Yes, I toed theparty line more than Ishould. I compromised my ownvalues more than I should. It won'thappen again. I'll say this: it hasmade me a better manager.
'So itwasn't a missed opportunity, likewhen I went to Barcelona as ayoung player.'
He didn't compromise his viewson the way the game should beplayed and while he doesn't mentionCity's defensive approach under successor Roberto Mancini it might not have been far from hismind when he said: 'I've played forclubs who attack United,Chelsea, Barcelona.
'Attacking football is what I wantto watch as a manager, it's what Iwant from my teams. It's easier tobe destructive and get peoplebehind the ball than to be constructiveand creative.
'That's not theway I want my teams to play.'
Hughes is among the small groupof British managers fortunate to beemployed by clubs in the top half ofthe table. Does he believe theyare being badly treated by theobsession of directors to turn toforeigners?
Simply Red: Mark Hughes was an Old Trafford hero during his days at Manchester United
'I'm not here to bang the drum forBritish managers. I read what HarryRedknapp said in the Daily Maillast week and I agree with his argument.Top clubs won't appointBritish managers because we don'thave trophies.
'I watch some of theteams in the Champions League,with managers who have wontrophies, and I know I can set up ateam to beat them.
'Competing in the Premier Leagueis more difficult than winningtrophies in plenty of countriesabroad. Who is the bettermanager one of these ChampionsLeague guys with a trophy from Holland, France, Switzerland and places like that or me, in thisleague, the hardest, most highprofile league in the world?'
Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwieckiand Kevin Hitchcock as well ashis youngest son, Alex, a videoprofiler and analyst havefollowed him to Craven Cottage.
Welshman abroad: Mark Hughes during his Bayern Munich days
'They are not with me becausethey are my mates. They are herebecause they can do the job.Together, we make teams better.Judge that.
'Look at Blackburn andManchester City. Sometimes we doit quickly, other times it can takelonger, but we improve teams.'
He says he is 'stimulated' by thechallenge at Fulham, where he hasreplaced Roy Hodgson. Hughes willsoon move into a new house just offthe trendy King's Road and wantsto experience London life, unlike inhis Chelsea playing days when helived among his team-mates inSurrey's commuter belt.
Players talk of 'enjoying' trainingunder the command of Hughes andhis staff and they are unbeaten inthe Barclays Premier Leagueduring a steady start.Hughes is anxious not to undermine Hodgson's achievements,particularly last season, explaining:'It would be very easy to take thesting out of their success and try tooverlook what they all did in Europeand the Premier League. Whyshould we?
'This club is rightfullyproud of that. I've worked with expectation allthrough my career as a player and amanager. My job is to manage that,take it on and look to finish in thetop 10.
'That doesn't scare me. We've signed good players,such as MoussaDembele and CarlosSalcido, who havemade a difference. We know wehave to be careful with money.
'I like to think we have alwaysbeen careful with money. It wasonly when the new owners tookover at City that everyone knewthere was money to be made andthe fees went up.'
Such as signing Brazil forwardRobinho from Real Madrid for aBritish record transfer fee of£32.5million. Was it a mistake?
'Robbie,' he concedes, 'was theright player at the wrong time inthe development of the club. Hewasn't the only one who struggledwith being at a club in transition.
'Some people don't react well tochange.'
Hughes today is good companyand more at ease than I have seenhim before. He accepts he can beshy, but says management hastaken him out of his comfort zoneand he remains eager to developand learn.
Regrets: Mark Hughes reckons Robinho was the right player at the wrong time for City
'I never really had to talk to biggroups before I came into this job.As a player, I responded to the supporters.If they wanted aggression,I gave it to them. I was never one tocourt the media; I never had to.
'Other people had to try to raisetheir profile, I already had mine. Now this job challenges me. Whenyou first have to address 18hairy-****d footballers as a youngmanager, that teaches you aboutcommunication and sending out amessage.
'Be clear with yourinstruction. Then you have to learn the game.Read, study, understand, work withyour staff. Or else players will take one look at you and think, 'Theseguys don't know what they aredoing we've seen it done better'.
'Having caps and trophies andmedals doesn't get you very far. Itmight get you through the doorwhen you start out as a manager,but then it soon unravels if youdon't learn your job.'
He has, as you would expect,strong views on the issues currentlydominating the game, such as thenumber of injuries this season.Fulham have been particularlydamaged by the loss of their talismanBobby Zamora with a brokenleg, while Dembele might have beenworse off than a damaged ankle.
Crocked: Mark Hughes start to the season at Fulham has suffered an early blow after the loss of Bobby Zamora to injury
'Generally, there are more seriousinjuries rather than more dangeroustackles,' Hughes explains.
'Thereason is the impact of bigger,stronger, fitter athletes. There isn't the intimidation therewas when I played, there isn't thedark arts. I liked to be in the thickof all of that.
'In the modern game, there arehigh-impact collisions causingmaximum damage. A player who isnot balanced when trying to ride achallenge can suffer a serious injury.One of my main strengths wasresisting tackles, seeing themcoming and riding a tackle.'
He has a gift for riding challenges,going back to the days when hewould knock down obstacles, as well as opponents.
Once, the legendaryGerman striker Uli Hoenesstold Hughes he could be the firstplayer in history to play twomatches in one day, daring theyoung Bayern Munich striker toattempt the test of endurance(Hughes later found out that theDanish playmaker, Soren Lerby,had already done it).
Pastures new: Mark Hughes managing Fulham has helped put a smile back on his face
On November 11, 1987, afterHughes had played for Wales whenthey lost 2-0 against Czechoslovakiain an afternoon Euro 88qualifier in Prague, Hoeness Bayern'sgeneral manager hired a jetto fly the player back across theborder.
He then personally drovehim in his Porsche to play forBayern Munich against BorussiaMonchengladbach in an importantGerman Cup tie.
'We flew over the ground and thematch had kicked off,' Hughesrecalls.
'I could see the players fromthe air. When we got there, Bayernwere losing 2-1 then I came on asa substitute. We won 3-2 and I'dlove to finish the story by saying Iscored both goals and ran thegame.
'But the truth is that MichaelRummenigge scored the goals andI hardly got a touch.'
Whatever his impact that night, itis typical of Hughes to finish up onthe winning team. Fulham will enjoythat side to his character, ManchesterCity may still live to regret theirloss.
Mark Hughes pays for being the wrong man in the wrong place. £200m can't buy time for boss as Manchester City's powerbrokers wield the axeMan City top of the table as owner Mansour heads football's rich listGutted Mark Hughes hits back at City chiefs to insist he was on track for gloryModern boots or bad luck: What's behind all these nasty injuries?
Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, John Terry, Michael Essien, Mark Hughes, Danny Murphy, Damien Duff, Didier Drogba, Carlos Tevez, Roy Hodgson, Mark Taylor, Nemanja Vidic Places: Barcelona, Prague, Munich, London, Surrey, France, Germany, Wales, Spain, The Netherlands, Switzerland