Can Mike Ashley be forgiven for Chris Hughton sacking?

Posted by - December 8, 2010 - Newcastle United, Premier League, Ranting and Raving

OTP goes all Devil’s Advocate on you

When the news came through that Chris Hughton had been relieved of his post by Newcastle United in general, and Mike Ashley in particular, it provoked an understandable reaction. “Ashley out” was the gist of the message, with many additional comments unprintable.

So does the chairman deserve all the flak that he is getting?

Of course, the man is a clueless dick that is not in touch with the heart of the club

1. Firstly, the sacking of Hughton, on merit, was incredibly harsh. He had a higher winning percentage (56%) than any of the ten Newcastle managers before him, and more than every single manager in the Premier League apart from Ancelotti, Ferguson and Wenger.

Obviously the majority of this football was played in the Championship, but Hughton was named, initially temporarily, in charge of a team that was incredibly low on confidence and belief, summed up by the 6-0 pre-season defeat to Leyton Orient.

This season Newcastle have beaten Arsenal, Villa, Everton and drawn with Chelsea, all teams that finished in the top eight of the Premier League last season. In addition to this, in October the Toon thrashed fierce rivals Sunderland 5 – 1. It was their biggest derby win in more than fifty years.

2. Ashley’s decision has rocked the boat. Newcastle are a club that has been crippled by instability and uncertainty. Hughton was their seventh manager since Bobby Robson left in 2004, and it is no coincidence that that was their last period of success. Changes in managers between 2007 and 2009 principally led to the club’s relegation.

But under Hughton it looked different. Newcastle (and say it quietly) looked like a proper club. They gained promotion from the Championship with remarkably little fuss, losing four matches all season. This season they sit eleventh in the league.

Whatever Ashley’s reasons, he has rocked the boat somewhat. The stability is no longer, and uncertainty reigns once more. And Newcastle fans will struggle to forgive that.

3. Finally, the sacking shows that Ashley quite literally lied to the fans and media. Despite the shock at Hughton’s departure, there was a feeling amongst all of us that this was very much ‘on the cards’. But Ashley released a statement on October 28th:

Chris is our manager and will remain our manager. It’s our intention to renegotiate his contract at the end of the year.

But this was simply not true. Hughton was not an ‘Ashley man’, and therefore had become undermined over the unwillingness to offer him a new deal. Chris Hughton is a good man, players and colleagues have told us that. Therefore he, the Newcastle fans and the players all deserved the honesty and clarity that Hughton himself provided.

But Ashley must have reasons for his actions?

1. There is a train of thought that suggests that Hughton has actually done rather well out of all this, and bear with me. He took over a squad that had dramatically underperformed, leading to a surprising relegation. Therefore he had Newcastle at their lowest ebb. He then gained promotion with a squad that contained 11 internationals and had a vast amount of Premiership experience.

This season Newcastle have performed well in the big games, but there is an argument that the players motivate themselves for big games. A manager has an effect on overall consistency, and this is something which Newcastle have been sadly in. Losses at home to Stoke City, Blackpool and Blackburn, combined with heavy away defeats at Bolton and West Brom and draws against Wolves and Wigan paint a pessimistic picture, but the negative aspect is clear.

Newcastle had started well, but had taken two points from five games and sit just four points outside the relegation zone.

So when you consider Hughton’s payoff and the fact that he is one of a handful of Premier League managers able to leave a job with reputation intact, our moral indignation can be tempered slightly.

2. Is Mike Ashley not simply acting on one of the cornerstones of business and selling/upgrading at the right time?

Ashley appointed Hughton on a relatively low £400,000 per year salary and on a short-team deal. If Ashley now firmly believes that Hughton has taken the club as far as he can come, then is this not the ideal time to change things around?

Let’s say that Ashley persuades a big name manager to the club (Jol or O’Neill say). With the January window coming up, and the club in mid-table of the Premier League, it would be an ideal chance to attract players of a higher quality than Hughton could have attracted. Obviously there is the danger of Gerard Houllier syndrome, where the club downturns again, but the alternative is a positive outlook.

Manchester City’s owners believed Mark Hughes had taken the club as far as possible. They replaced him with Roberto Mancini. Win on Saturday and City will go level on points at the top of the Premier League. Hughes’ Fulham could be joint bottom.

When Hodgson left Fulham at the end of last season to move to Liverpool, we congratulated him for being able to upgrade his status to have a shot at the big time. So if managers can use to upgrade their clubs, why can clubs not upgrade their managers without receiving immense criticism?

PS This point is negated if they choose Alan effing Pardew!

Football is a fickle sport and a fickle industry. This week Mike Ashley is persona non grata. If he appoints Alan Pardew and Newcastle drop down the Premier League, he will be vilified and his status as Chairman will be threatened. The players that have so far tweeted their incredulence will declare themselves unhappy with the current regime.

But if a savvy appointment is made, Newcastle are able to purchase wisely in January and cut out the home defeats to clubs the Toon really should be beating, and you look at just how quickly everyone forgets the moral outrage and disgust at Chris Hughton’s sacking.

When Claudio Ranieri left Chelsea after guiding them to second in the League, we all declared that it was ‘such a great shame’ that he had left, he was ‘such a good man and a great character’. Turned out the alternative wasn’t too bad either.

  • Alex

    “Of course, the man is a clueless dick …”

    Is this really necessary? I’d expect it in the comments, in fact would be surprised if it wasn’t in the comments, but from a site news author? Attacks and insults? Seriously.

    I’ve never seen OTP go this way before, if they have then I’ve missed it, but it brings down the whole tone of the site when this sort of thing is resorted to.

    If I want to read insults directed at the people who mess up in football, then I’ll read the various forums out there. OTP was always, in my opinion and why I came here, about showing their readers the funny side and interesting side, keeping us updated with what’s happening that the big news sites don’t report, etc.

    Attacks and insults like this just make this site the same as all the forums, which is a very big disappointment.

  • Daniel Storey

    Alex, you are right, and the comment was underlined because it was exactly as you say: the view from the ‘terraces’.

    It certainly does not represent the view of OTP (or indeed myself). I actually, for what its worth, think that Ashley cares deeply about the club and just wants success, alongside redemption for mistakes he has made in the past.

    The idea of the article was to play devils adovocate to these opinions and examine their true worth. If anything Id like to think i fell down on the positive side of the sacking.

    Sorry if you understodd that that was my view, couldnt be further from the truth to be honest

  • Daniel Storey

    And looks like Pardew is the man, so will be interesting if the fans get behind him if the beat Liverpool on Saturday.

    File that game under must watch on Saturday teatime!

  • biziclop

    Quotation marks?

  • Daniel Storey

    I honestly thought that underlining the point to then go on below to discuss it would make it clear enough it wasn’t in any way my view. Which becomes obvious when reading on.

    Hey ho

  • hollis

    Let’s not give Pardew too much grief. He did take West Ham to one of the greatest FA Cup finals of all time, and acheived a decent league position (7th if I recall correctly). Yes, the wheels fell off afterwards, but in all honesty no manager has been able to get results with West Ham since (hate to say it) Harry.

    Albeit he shat the bed at Charlton, but had a half decent run with Southampton until he pissed off the owner.

    He’s not the worst choice for a bottom half of the table type club. And let’s be honest, name any better manager who would be willing to work for the one man circus named Mike Ashley. Anyone that thought either Martin was in the frame was delirious.

  • Chris

    An excellent article, as a Newcastle fan, i had honestly not considered these arguments before, it hasn’t changed my opinion but it’s certainly an insight to an alternate view.
    I would only raise 2 points from this however, the first being that Hughton is unlikely to get the big payoff that helps to make it seem like everybody wins. He only had 6 months left on a contract where he was being paid less per month than Alan Smith, a perennial bench warmer this season.
    And the second being that a higher profile manager would big bigger names to the club, ignoring the question of whether newcastle needed bigger names (i can think of plenty of big name signings in the past 10 years that have suggested otherwise) but whether these players will be signed. Hughton was told that there would be no money to spend in January, it remains to be seen whether this situation will change once a manager he trusts is in charge but considering the press release he penned last year stating that the clubs aim was no longer to sign big names but young players with determination that could be sold for a profit in the future it certainly doesn’t seem like there will be a great deal of cash in the kitty.
    I’d appreciate your opinions on these factors Daniel.

  • Nick

    I honestly can’t make my mind up about Ashley. Looking back on the day that a very private man bought a club dear to his heart, and showed that he respected the fans, and at the start actually wanted to be one of them in the stands, he looked like a breath of fresh air. I genuinely believe his heart is in the right place. So what went wrong?

    1. Failing to complete due diligence on the club. He had to plough in an extra 100 million more than expected just to clear debts that he had no idea existed. At face value it looks very commendable to have put even more money in from his own pocket, but it means that he has been hamstrung ever since in being able to supply cash to the managers and in his efforts to sell the club. He wants his money back, I get that, but it means he has to sell the club for a lot more than he would previously have accepted, and it’s been hard to do. The result has been massive instability

    2. Shocking managerial chopping and changing. No-one has been given the time to build a squad, the players have to adapt every time and it can’t be easy for them. It’s looking like he’s going to go for Pardew now which is baffling in itself, but he has to be given time to do his job should he be the successful candidate.

  • Daniel Storey

    Happy ro respond to those queries Chris, and would expand on one of Nicks ideas below.

    Ashlley’s heart is in the right place, and although he has been affected by the recession, still has an incredible personal wealth (£890million according to Sunday Times Rich List 2010).

    With this fortune it would seem that if Ashley chooses to, there could be money to spend. Add to this that Pardew would be an Ashley choice, whereas Hughton was always seen as a short-term solution, albeit one that over performed with dignity.

    One thing that Ashley has done well is to bring the age bill down at the club. To steal a stat from Football365, when Ashley took over NUFC paid the fifth highest wages in the country to finish 12th. With the same wages, these players took the club down, with a series of underperforming managers. Don’t underestimate that Hughton was at the club as first team coach and caretaker manager throughout this time. Since relegation he has sold ‘deadwood’ players that have brought this down significantly. In that sense stability has been achieved.

    So big players may not be signed, but I don’t this worries Ashley, becasue i dont think he trusted Hughton to lead the club forward. In Pardew he has gone for a sidewards step (at best), and this will worry Newcastle fans, but like it or not the man has ploughed a vast amount of money into the club, and therefore has every right to choose ‘his man’.

    Having said that, I dont think PArdew is good enough for the job, but I thought the same about Di Matteo, Pulis, Holloway and McCleish in the Premier League, and all have done admirably. A few good results and it will all die down

    Regarding the payoff, you are possibly right, and I do not have anyone close enough to the club to give you a figure. The main thing is that £400,000 a year is good money in football if you get to leave with your head held high.

    Sorry for waffling!

  • biziclop

    Daniel, it was clear enough for me, I just thought there was an easier and more standard way to convey it.

    I did think they were links at first though. 🙂

    Nick, did Ashley really look like a breath of fresh air or did he simply look like a twat? The day a chairman wants to be seen as just one of the crowd, it’s clear he’s lost his bearings and got his priorities wrong.

    A chairman belongs to the boardroom and not to the stands. Most of us would give almost anything to be able to help our beloved club more effectively than just cheering from the stands. To throw all that away and appear in a replica shirt (similar to the thousands and thousands he had been selling) is painfully patronising, almost a mockery of our situation, even if it wasn’t meant as such.

    It’s shouting “Look, I could toil away to raise transfer funds for next season or make sure that everything is the right hands, but I’m prancing around with you instead. I too am one of the lads, except several hundreds of millions richer.”

    All throughout Ashley’s tenure this utter lack of a sense of clear direction shone through.