He went from hero to jobless in a matter of weeks at Newcastle, but since then a lot has changed for Chris Hughton and he inevitably found himself back in the Premier League spotlight. In the wake of his former side’s current plight did the Magpies miss a trick by letting Hughton go?
The path he has taken since initially suggests they may have done. He did a tremendous job with Birmingham City to get a disjointed squad into the Championship playoffs. He also provided a respectable Europa League campaign, including a 2-1 victory in Brugge as a cherry on top of the cake for the Blues fans. He has shown that he has the capability of ensuring unity in his squads that can enable them to go on runs just as Norwich have. There were doubters of the Canaries as they struggled for early season form now they are on their best run in their Premier League history. The manager takes huge credit for that and rightly so.
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I raise a smile at Hughton establishing himself as a Premier League manager. Newcastle fans nostalgically call upon the 5-1 Halloween demolition of Sunderland at St. James’s Park. No supporter on Tyneside will forget the day when Kevin Nolan caused havoc chicken clucking around as he put a hatrick past his team’s bitter rivals. There was the feeling that this alone would be spare Hughton a lot of time, and that a popular manager can finally settle. The lacklustre performance at the Hawthorns in his last game in charge was not an indicator of a departure. Nobody expected him to go when he did. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though.
Now you look back you can see why his partnership with Newcastle United came to an end. Hughton was destined to leave for the reason that he may have been a great coach but his existence was not very much beyond that. I am not ignorant to assume that all he did was coach, but he was an isolated figure even if the fans never wanted to admit it. Newcastle supporters are correct to say he was unfortunate to be sacked, but the board knew exactly what he brought to the table. He was a motivator and encouraged a fantastic team spirit. This wasn’t enough; they did not have the confidence that he was the face they could put their trust in. The turbulent spell like they are facing now needs a strong personality to take the criticism in his stride and ability to see the vision of the board before the supporters. The quiet unassuming figure of Hughton was not what the Newcastle decision makers wanted to work with.
Ashley was all too aware having a manager in charge that was seen as a fans messiah was dangerous. He knew from when Kevin Keegan was installed due to fan power that this can only end one way, in tears. The Owner could not take the risk that Hughton could use the fans as a weapon against him. There was no communication between Chris Hughton and the board they were separate entities and for this reason they had to split.
Mike Ashley was rarely given credit for his meticulous business planning before the days of Pardew. This is because any manager’s positive image was done individually and did not include the main man in charge upstairs, which would have made the fans appreciate the board. Alan Pardew instantly spoke about working with the board as a unit. The 41 year old has marketed Newcastle as a brand run by the club’s hierarchy, rather than promoting his personal image of Mr Pardew being Mr Newcastle United. This was a perfect scenario for Ashley because he knew any popularity Pardew would gain he would benefit from too.
This is demonstrated when Alan Pardew explained about the club’s transfer failings he mentions the five man hierarchy getting it wrong with himself and chief scout Graham Carr included. The affiliation of blame to two popular characters in his honest appraisal draws in an acceptance from the fans. It deflects blame away from Ashley rather than venom and spite in his direction, which is essential. The owner knows that Pardew will work his visions around what is dictated to him and this is pivotal for any working relationship. Mike Ashley is the ultimate boss, because it is his money that goes in and Pardew understands this loud and clear. This is why he was so handsomely rewarded with an 8 year deal. The Sports Direct owner is sure to make some ruthless business calls on player sales and purchases in the future but the fact that this won’t be a surprise to Pardew is a massive boost.
Newcastle experienced a stormy spell when Carroll left for £35 million. A fan backlash then has prepared the former Southampton boss for this current wave of frustration. He answers to the board before the fans though and the unity this provides will ensure Newcastle remains a strong unit for the foreseeable future. If Pardew plays by Ashley’s rules he will be rewarded, and given opportunity to sign players to improve the team under a suitable structure.
Pardew and the club’s hierarchy have been on the same page since day one; he was wanted and had utmost respect from the owner. He is a channel of communication between the fans and the owner that had never existed under Hughton. How Hughton was viewed upstairs was always shrouded in controversy. He ended up in charge purely as an agreement of convenience in the Championship and because he got the Magpies promoted he had to stay, in the same way Abramovich was obligated to keep Di Matteo.
Alan Pardew is a completely different kettle of fish to what Hughton was. He buys into the Ashley plan and he doesn’t appear to be left in the dark on subjects and can usually shed light on issues between board and fans. I am convinced that results would not have been all too dissimilar under Hughton or ‘Pardiola’, but the current boss was brought in to guide the ship at times just like now. It is why the fans remain patient that he will turn it round once again and few fans have called for his head.
While the split with Hughton was unfortunate and messy for the fans, essentially the board certainly understood why they sacked him, and what they wanted from a manager. The timing was difficult but when was a good time to ever sack a fans favourite. There may be a clamour from fans to recall Hughton’s great exploits and yearn for the days he was here. Those who do that though will miss the point of the way the Newcastle hierarchy has to run if the club is to have a long term future.