In this case, to say the very least, you can’t spell “dismissal” without the word “dismal”. The sacking of Chris Hughton from the Newcastle United manager’s job is not the most surprising sacking that we will season, but it might well be the most stupid. In getting rid of a manager that had managed what many on Tyneside may have considered to be something approaching a holy grail of a combination – that of being both popular and successful – Mike Ashley has given us yet further cause to question whether he should allowed anywhere near the ownership and overall management of Newcastle United Football Club. Yes, as the owner of the club he is immovable, and Newcastle supporters now have fresh cause for concern over what the future may bring.
It is worth considering just what the condition of Newcastle United was when Hughton took over the management of the club. Alan Shearer, appointed solely on the basis of what can only be described as sentimentality, had taken a club that was laden down with extravagantly-contracted players down from the Premier League, and there was conjecture over what effect failure to get straight back into the Premier League might have upon the club’s finances in the long term. It is a testimony to his success last season, as Newcastle won their way back into the Premier League with the minimum of fuss, that much of this now sits as a mere footnote in the history of Newcastle United.
Contrary to what some might believe, there has been no great clamour for instant success on the part of the supporters of the club this season. With their playing budget still under constraint, this season had been regarded by many of the club’s supporters as one for consolidation, of re-establishing themselves in the Premier League and building for the future. The rumours surrounding Hughton’s future, have been swirling around for several weeks, even though their form so far has, for a newly-promoted club, been reasonable. We wrote at the end of October that there was speculation concerning his future, but the common assent at the time was that Ashley wouldn’t be mad enough to sack him, everything considered.
Common assent, on this occasion was wrong. They may be mid-table in the Premier League, with wins at Arsenal and Everton in the Premier League, at Chelsea in the League Cup and a 5-1 win against Sunderland under their belts, but somehow, presumably for some reason, Ashley has concluded that this is not enough and that Newcastle United needs a manager “with more experience”. The club has already been linked with the likes of Martin Jol and early rumours suggested that Alan Pardew was the man that they were going to give the job. Many would argue that either of those two individuals have shortcomings of their own and that the disruption that could be wreaked upon the team by a change of manager at this point of the season could be considerable, but when looking for sound reasons why he should be replaced now is proving to be very difficult.
Hughton has been at St James Park for almost three years, and much of his time as the club’s manager has been through very fraught times. His time in charge of the club had been characterised by attempts to actually try and build up some sort of long-term stability for the playing side of the club. What calibre of manager will look at a club that will sack a successful manager (presumably, for there is no other even semi-rational explanation for it, because he is not a big enough name for a club such as Newcastle United, as far as Mike Ashley is concerned) under these circumstances and decide, “Yes! That’s the club for me!”? Can Newcastle United supporters ever expect a period of stability or for a long-term plan for the playing side of the club while Ashley is in charge of it?
There is certainly a marked difference in the reaction of the supporters of other clubs to this news. Newcastle’s failures a couple of years ago were met with more than a hint of schadenfreude from others, but it is now commonly understood that Hughton was popular with the Newcastle support, who had been dealt a sharp shock by relegation and whose expectations have since been tempered accordingly. What we can say with a degree of certainty is the the notion that this decision has been motivated by the will of the club’s supporters is a complete fabrication, since criticism of Hughton amongst the support is very, very difficult to find indeed.
Considering how tight the Premier League is this season, it would not be out of the question to suggest that, should they enter into a new period of instability, relegation could again become a possibility. Should this dread scenario come to pass, the supporters of the club will be prepared for it. They have, after all, been there before. The question of whether Mike Ashley can afford it again, however, is an altogether different one and this is the biggest irony of all. This decision is a massive gamble, but the biggest loser if it fails will be Ashley himself, while it is difficult to imagine the extent to which it could ever be considered a success.
So, the supporters will be fine and Hughton himself leaves the club with his reputation completely intact. There can be little doubt that he will not be out of work for long. If there was something else, another reason that Ashley is keeping quiet for whatever reason, it would be probably be for the best that he makes it public, because at the moment Mike Ashley is again dragging his own reputation and that of his club through the mud yet again with this sort of behaviour. Ultimately, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that both Chris Hughton and the supporters of Newcastle United deserve better than this. Hughton may find that this works in his favour in the long run. Newcastle supporters, however, are stuck with an owner who is giving the impression of wanting his club to become a living, breathing soap opera.
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