It has been a while since cries of “sack the board” could be heard across Tyneside. I have a feeling that following today’s news that Chris Hughton has been sacked by Newcastle United we may well be hearing an awful lot more of it. In case Mike Ashley had been worrying that he was losing his title of most hated man in the north-east, I think he has well and truly secured it for the near future. The decision has been met by a general sense of outrage by Toon fans and onlookers alike and it is not difficult to see why.
Hughton took charge of Newcastle when the club was in turmoil. They had been relegated from the top flight, Ashley was trying desperately to sell the club and the squad was an unattractive collection of players bought in by a series of Hughton’s short-lived predecessors. Under his leadership, however, the Magpies cruised to the Championship title and now sit 11th in the Premiership table and he has done this all on the tightest of budgets.
The Irishmen had given the club a fleeting moment of stability. In the six years since 2004 there has been eight, soon to be nine, different managers. Just as it seemed the club was making progress the radical decision has been taken to dismiss Hughton. The board had been unwilling to offer him a long-term contract throughout this season which, considering some of the results and performances the side were producing, is laughable.
They travelled to the Emirates and won 1-0, they thumped Aston Villa 6-0, hammered their rivals Sunderland 5-1 and got a point against Chelsea. Now, admittedly, there have been some poor performances and disappointing results amongst these. Nevertheless, most would be in agreement that Hughton had over-achieved while in charge at St. James’ Park. He won 55.7% of his games at Newcastle and it is hard to think of who, with the players and resources he had available, would have done a better job.
It would appear as though Hughton has been the victim of unrealistic expectations. It is something that has claimed many Newcastle United managers over the past fifteen years. If Ashley and the rest of the board are of the opinion that the club could be doing better than they are, then any manager coming in seems destined to fail.
The club have stated that they are looking for a manager with more experience at this level to help move the club forward. You must wonder though, which top level manager would want to work under Ashley and co. considering the way they have treated their managers of late. Loyalty is seemingly hard to come by in that boardroom and it would take a very brave or foolish character to take on the Newcastle hot seat right now.
Newcastle are a big club. They have the fans and the stadium to rival pretty much any other club in the country. The board must accept though, their team does not reflect that at this time. They are, or at they least were, in a period of rebuilding. Hughton had mobilised the squad and was getting the best out of them on a regular basis. Nolan and Barton have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance under Hughton while Andy Carroll was awarded an England cap for the fantastic improvements he has made over the past eighteen months.
The decision to sack Hughton is one that is all too indicative of short-sighted chairman who are worryingly out of touch with the reality of football. Stability within a football club is key. A manager needs time to build his own squad and implement his own footballing philosophy. If allowed the time to so, the benefits can be great. Hughton seemed to be on his way to doing so. Their was a new air of calm around the club and, while the squad was steadily improving, they were on their way to securing another season of Premiership football.
That stability they had has once again gone. A new era must now begin. It will be fascinating to see how the players respond to what is, by most accounts, a baffling decision. Reports are already claiming that the reaction is, unsurprisingly, not good. Sol Campbell has commented that Hughton had the admiration of himself and the rest of the team. Campbell said: “This will hit the players hard. The players admired him, and liked him, and won’t be happy now he’s gone like this… Here is a guy who has done an unbelievable job. He got the club back into the Premier league and any manager would have been rewarded for that with a new contract – but Chris wasn’t.” It therefore is looking likely that Ashley’s attempt to progress the club will be of more detriment than benefit.
It will be equally interesting to see who is going to replace Hughton as manager. Names like O’Neil, Curbishley and Pardew are being floated around as the rumour mill kicks into over-drive. It is sounding increasingly likely that Pardew will be appointed, if so, good luck to him. If Hughton’s successor is expected to elevate the club’s league position then they are in for a tough time. Newcastle face Liverpool (home), Birmingham (away), Manchester City (home) and Tottenham (away) in their next four games and winning just one of these would be an achievement.
One thing is a certainty though, the response of the Toon Army to Ashley’s choice will be as ferocious as it is justified.