The top of the Guardian football page reads “Breaking news: Chris Hughton sacked as manager of Newcastle ...” and the sheer tragic predictability comes crashing down. Mike Ashley strikes again. After an embarrassing season resulting in relegation Hughton’s Newcastle ran riot in the Championship and lie 11th at the half-way point this year. If you had offered 11th place two years later to Newcastle fans after their final day defeat to Villa they would have accepted even faster than Ashley changes managers. Yet instead of being praised for a damn good job in the last 18 months, Hughton has been unceremoniously dumped.
Yes there has been a slight dip in form. There have been a couple of bad results, including getting thumped 5-1 by Bolton. Since they beat Arsenal they have taken only two points from a possible fifteen. But Hughton masterminded victories over Arsenal and Everton as well as utterly thumping both Aston Villa (6-0) and arch-rivals Sunderland (5-1). They’re a stable and well organized side. Tiote is one of the signings of the season. Until his encounter with De Jong Ben Arfa looked a very promising young player. Andy Carroll received a call-up to the national team off the back of recent performances. Nolan and Barton have both been highly impressive.
Some have argued that Hughton should have been given a long contract in order to fully focus on his job. Why? He was doing just fine without the guarantee of a huge pay-off if Ashley decided to go all Alan Sugar. But the reason given for the firing was that the club wanted someone with “more top-flight experience.” People like Keegan or Kinnear then? Or how about Allardyce? If Newcastle had stuck with the experienced Big Sam they would not have been relegated in the first place. Incidentally, can anyone guess the position Newcastle were in when they sacked Allardyce? That’s right, they were in 11th!
One of the most depressing factors in the Hughton sacking is the inevitability. He was a dead-man walking although exactly why was never clear. Similarly Benitez at Inter, Hodgson at Liverpool and Mancini at City all look destined for the chop. Whether they deserve it is another matter, but there are just so many managers who are nailed on to get fired without a good chance at their respective clubs. Ancelotti is also having trouble with Abramovich and has publically stated that he is not in control of the team. The four above have had a combined total of less than three and a half years at their clubs. Not exactly time to mould the team to their playing style. Hodgson is coping with the loss of Mascherano and aging team leaders in Carragher and Gerrard and is replacing an immensely popular manager. Ironically so is Benitez. Mancini has been given phenomenal amounts of money but that many new players need time to gel. Ancelotti has hardly had money to splash and key players are in need of replacing.
Hughton’s sacking is symptomatic of how utterly insane the relationship between managers and owners has become at many clubs.