Can Mike Ashley be forgiven for Chris Hughton sacking?
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.