The seat in the Carrow Road manager’s office will not even be cold by the time Chris Hughton starts work tomorrow. The former Birmingham man has joined the Canaries just a day after former manager Paul Lambert was unveiled as the new Aston Villa leader.
Hughton has enjoyed a growing reputation as a manager and finally looks to be at a club where he can look towards the future – and not at the uncertainty creeping behind him.
After guiding a strong Newcastle team back to the Premier League following their relegation, Hughton was sacked as Magpies boss 16 games into his debut Premier League season. At the time, the majority of the Geordie faithful were bemused by Mike Ashley’s decision. Hughton had been credited with stabilising a club that could quite easily have turned into the next Bradford, Charlton or Sheffield Wednesday in that they were relegated and continued their descent down the Football League. However, the former Spurs assistant instilled an aura of calm amongst the overflowing egos at the club and got them pulling in the same direction. A win percentage of 55.7% was not enough for Hughton to keep his job and Ashley dismissed him and replaced him with Alan Pardew, who continues to praise the work his predecessor did.
A move to Birmingham was next on the agenda for the former Irish international and for Hughton it was a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’.
The Blues had just been relegated from the Premier League and their manager Alex McLeish had made the cross-city switch to Villa. Questions were hanging over the owners and Hughton was forced to sell a lot of his best players. He replaced those with a clutter of loan signings and free transfers and somehow made them work as a unit. That is the key to Hughton. He is a man-manager, a motivator, someone who makes players believe that they can do what others tell them they can’t. When Birmingham were written off in Europe they went to Bruges and won, crashing out of the tournament with a mammoth 10 points in the group stages – enough points to have gone through in three other groups.
Not content with thriving on the continent, Hughton got his Birmingham charges playing to similar level in the Championship. The Blues were tipped by a few pundits to struggle and with the uncertainty around the board at the club, many had tipped them to be in relegation trouble. But Hughton loves proving doubters wrong and he managed to ensure City finished a very respectable 4th before crashing out of the play-offs.
That was impressive enough for Norwich to immediately swoop for him as Lambert’s replacement and it is no surprise when you compare the two.
The ability to get the best out of players such as Grant Holt, John Ruddy and Wes Hoolahan was a key element to Lambert’s success. Convincing players of their abilities that they are Premier League standard was integral to Norwich last season and as already mentioned – Hughton has the ability to squeeze the very best out of a side.
Another key facet to Lambert’s Premier League success was his tactical flexibility. Whilst he may have lined up with 4-4-2 most weeks, changes to formations such as 3-4-1-2 mid-match were often the difference in games, bamboozling an opposition who had no idea where they should be.
Whilst Hughton can be quite reluctant to make substitutions in matches, he has also shown signs of being able to alter his tactics. Where possible, Hughton likes his 4-4-2 as a starting base, but he can also get his teams to change to 4-4-1-1 or 4-3-3 when it is needed.
Finally, Lambert has made no secret of the fact that the Villa job will be the first in which he has had a vast amount of money to spend. Despite Norwich’s survival last year, it was widely reported that the club’s budget would not be greatly enhanced. The Canaries are a club run prudently to strict budgets and this is a factor that Hughton is very experienced in working under. Ashley gave him a grace period of a year at Newcastle, but started cost-cutting measures once the club returned to the Premier League. As earlier mentioned he assembled a squad of loans and bosman signings at Birmingham and continued to get the best out of them. Therefore, you would not imagine that he would have any problems working to a budget. Considering the finances he has had in the past – Norwich’s funds may seem like a war chest.
So, after evaluating the similarities between the two, it is not hard to identify why Norwich have moved to get Hughton as the replacement for Lambert. It was pretty obvious he was the outstanding candidate for the job from the moment the Scot resigned and the speed at which the Canaries’ board have moved suggests that they agree.