I feel I’m in a good position to discuss Chris Hughton. He was the manager of my team Newcastle United for 18 months and after the late Sir Bobby Robson he’s the only manager that I was unhappy to see leave.
It wasn’t always so positive. When he first joined as a coach during the tenure of Kevin Keegan I was slightly hesitant. He seemed for want of a better phrase ‘the guy with the headset’. I’d seen him at Spurs often behind the manager just talking in his ear. Nothing then struck me as managerial.
Many former players speak of how he is ‘football’s nice guy’ and having seen him in close quarters I would like to concur that opinion. Respectful, polite he seemed embarrassed when I called him ‘Mr Hughton’ before a press conference while interning. When he inherited the Newcastle squad post-relegation he had a group of players at rock bottom. He lost five first team players in August only gaining the much needed reinforcements in September in the form of Marlon Harewood and Zurab Kizanishvilli on loan from Aston Villa and Blackburn respectively.
He managed to re-sign Peter Lovenkrands on a three year deal. The Dane would go on to score 13 league goals as Newcastle romped the Championship racking up over one hundred points in the process. His other signing that summer was Danny Simpson from Manchester United for around £750k. A bargain price looking back when you consider there have been suggestions the Salford born fullback could be close to an England call up.
Yet his biggest success during a year and half has to be the Nolan and Carroll partnership his tactics birthed. Kevin Nolan was a new recruit himself having joined in the relegation season in a £4m deal from Bolton. A largely disappointing first 6 months for the Scouse midfielder left me wondering if he was worth keeping. He was purchased as a goal scoring midfielder yet he struggled to look even remotely dangerous, he would go on to win player of the season and be one of the league’s top scorers.
By contrast Andy Carroll’s story was an all together different one. Brought in late towards the end of the season there was potential but little to suggest much had changed much since a poor loan spell at Preston North End. Even when promoted there was huge question marks over whether Hughton’s new look attack of Carroll and Nolan could come even close to recreating of the season previous.
After a somewhat expected first day defeat to Manchester United we entered the home game against Aston Villa with trepidation. The honeymoon period was over. There was a distinct sub plot here Villa hadn’t just sent us down, they made banners. They mocked us in our darkest hour. After they were awarded an early penalty I feared the worst, but when the ball was blazed over by John Carew and Joey Barton smashed a shot past Brad Friedel I thought we could nick it.
What happened next couldn’t have been better if I’d choreographed the night before. Two from Nolan and a hat trick from Andy Carroll left the home side six goals up and Aston Villa thoroughly embarrassed. You’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned Hughton at this point, and in many ways that’s a testament to the man himself.
Ever present yet never seeking gratification. In an industry littered with the egotistical Hughton is all about his players. Even when Carroll netted that hat-trick Hughton was quick to point out his young striker was ‘still learning’. Andy Carroll might have scored the goals that secured him his £35m transfer to Liverpool but one hopes he doesn’t forget the work of Hughton on and off the field in getting him there.
When he was rather unceremoniously sacked after a 3-1 defeat away to West Brom a real sense of shock reverberated around the city and online through fan message boards. Here was a man who had taken a club at it’s lowest ebb and taken them back to the top exceeding expectations. He did it with no budget, no real help and he was still able to beat the club’s biggest rivals 5-1. Yes even I couldn’t go a full article without mentioning the Halloween horror show from Steve Bruce’s men.
He instilled a fight and self belief in the squad all the while refusing to complain and moan, he just got on with his job nonchalantly. If the owners at West Brom do decide he is the next step for the Baggies then the fans have gained a fantastic man, and a good young manager.
As for his legacy at Newcastle, I’ll leave the final word on that to Jonas ‘Spiderman’ Gutierrez who said the following in the wake of Hughton’s departure: “Thank you Chris, you believed in us when nobody believed in us.”