Undoubtedly the success story for Newcastle United in the Championship this season has been manager Chris Hughton. After spending over fourteen years at Tottenham as a first-team coach, Hughton moved to St James Park in 2008 where he once again took up his position as the number two. And when he proved to be less than successful as the Toon’s caretaker manager, it looked as though Hughton was destined to miss out on being the main man. But this season is a completely different story. With turmoil off the pitch, Hughton has brought a calmness and stability on it and rightfully earned himself a permanent contract. So how has he managed to shake off the number two tag?
The main feeling that Newcastle fans have this season is that the club is in safe hands. Chris Hughton is not particularly charismatic and he doesn’t give the media any sound bites that someone like Jose Mourinho provides on a regular occasion, but he is quietly getting the job done. He showed in his time at Spurs that he is a top-class coach and in over thirty years as a player and a coach, the English born Irish international has plenty of experience and a vast knowledge of football. At Newcastle, Hughton is earning a fraction of the salary picked up by the club’s biggest earners such as Fabricio Coloccini and Alan Smith, but he has ensured that there is no room for egos at the club. The 51 year old has instilled discipline and is sticking with his simple formula, and with Newcastle sitting pretty at the top of the table, why should he change it?
The impact of Chris Hughton at Newcastle is well described by his right hand man, Colin Calderwood. The former Nottingham Forest manager told The Telegraph that “Chris has been the essence of calm.” Hughton hasn’t done anything revolutionary or “fancy” as Calderwood put it, he has just “stripped it very bare and if you want to show your talent as a player then that is what you have got to do.” And with the talent at Newcastle’s disposal, that is all that is needed to be done, just let the talent shine through. Neither Calderwood nor Hughton are getting carried away with the start Newcastle have made in the Championship, as the job is only half done and they are keeping the players’ feet firmly on the ground. Calderwood further stated “we shouldn’t be content with what we have got. There has got to be an ongoing renewal process that keeps us on our toes.” And albeit in a calm manner, that is what Hughton is doing.
Hughton isn’t afraid to make his mark on the club and show who is boss though. He dropped Joey Barton and got the midfielder to issue an apology when there was a minor bust-up earlier in the season, and more recently Andy Carroll was left out of the squad after the striker’s alleged late night shenanigans. However, one of Hughton’s main moves has to give the players extra responsibility, which he has achieved by setting up a players’ committee. Experienced team members Smith, Kevin Nolan, Steve Harper and even the currently non-playing Geremi all have their say and most importantly problems are dealt with in-house. Acting somewhat like a politician, Hughton shows great diplomacy and isn’t afraid to let key players have their say and take a back seat himself.
As a manager Chris Hughton isn’t looking to overtly stamp his authority on the team, having a totally different character to say Alan Shearer. Instead Hughton is quietly working with the players and handing them responsibility to bring the best out of them, but this isn’t to say that he lets his authority be questioned. The likeable and modest manager has also established a harmony and team morale that has been missing at Newcastle for years and could well have been the missing ingredient. Fans favourite Steven Taylor told The Guardian “I don’t think we’ve ever had such good team spirit since I’ve been here. Chris has been fantastic, unlike a lot of managers, he has a human touch.” Hughton is uncomplicated in his approach and has serenely taken on the role of the main man, and his success at Newcastle this season is quite something for a man handed the number two tag for a number of years, a tag that he has now firmly shaken off.