A good person has joined the great club in the Fine City. Chris Hughton is a decent bloke – as well as a first rate football man.
And his appointment as Norwich City’s tenth manager of the Delia Smith era represents a significant opportunity – for him as well as for the club.
At his Carrow Road unveiling, as he talked about the quality of the City squad, there were clear clues about his own qualities. He thanked Birmingham. He refused to comment critically about Newcastle. He was articulate, thoughtful, understated. There were no boasts or bluster.
Hughton is a calm, contained, buttoned-up sort of man. We will not see theatrical shows of emotion in the technical area. There will not be post-match rants.
But don’t make the mistake of equating self-control with a lack of passion. Hughton cares, all right.
He cares enough, for instance, about football issues and moral issues to telephone folk he doesn’t know particularly well who have taken a stand for something important.
He cares enough about the clubs he has worked for to give loyal, unstinted service – and if that seems a bit rich after his decision to leave Birmingham, let me elaborate.
This is a man who has not always been dealt with well by the game he adores; who has been messed about by despotic chairmen, who has worked for some poor managers and who has too often been undervalued.
Throughout it all, he has simply got on with his job, striving to do it to the best of his considerable ability. He showed no rancour when he was treated shabbily. He never gave any of his employers cause to doubt his commitment or integrity.
At Spurs, where I first had dealings with Hughton (and was always impressed), he played under five managers, was a coach under five more and assistant manager to another four. None of them ever doubted his full support.
He also had a brief stint as caretaker manager at Tottenham, and when he was then overlooked for the top job, he merely resumed a subsidiary role without bitterness.
At Newcastle he coached under Kevin Keegan, stepped up to caretaker boss when Keegan departed but was told to step down again when Joe Kinnear breezed in as manager.
When Kinnear became ill, Newcastle turned to Hughton yet again to become caretaker manager. But the self-styled ‘Geordie Nation’ wanted one of their own and Alan Shearer was soon made interim manager. Hughton moved aside again, without a murmur.
Geordie Messiah Shearer could not prevent relegation from the Premier League. Owner Mike Ashley tried to flog the club and thought that Hughton would be OK as caretaker manager one more time while a mug – sorry, investor – was found.
What a dispiriting, disrespectful way to treat someone.
But Hughton set about the task of winning matches. He was Championship manager of the month in each of the first three months of the new season. Then, and only then, did Ashley condescend to drop the “caretaker” prefix from Hughton’s job title.
As we know, most teams relegated from the Premier League do not bounce straight back, but Hughton’s Newcastle stormed to the Football League title. They were unbeaten at home all season. Their points total (102) is the equal third best in the 20 years since the formation of the Premier League. (Norwich won the title with 94 in 2004 and were promoted with 84 in 2011).
Then, Newcastle’s start in the Premier League was impressive. They were ninth by the end of October. Wins at Arsenal and a 5-1 thrashing of hated rivals Sunderland followed. Despite being a Londoner, Hughton had won over the Geordie Nation.
And then Ashley sacked him.
The subsequent success of Alan Pardew would not have been possible without the base built by Hughton, whose signings included Cheick Tioté and Hatem Ben Arfa.
Martin Jol was desperately keen to take Hughton as his assistant manager at Fulham, but, having proved emphatically that he could do the top job, he held out for another go at management.
It came at newly-relegated Birmingham – and as soon as he said “Yes” to them, club owner Carson Yeung was arrested in Hong Kong. Bank accounts were frozen, Yeung was not allowed to leave Hong Kong. Meanwhile Hughton had to rebuild the squad following a firesale of players.
He contrived to guide Birmingham into the play-offs, but you can see why Norwich – stable, Premier League, well-run Norwich – present Hughton with an opportunity.
It will be a change to work somewhere sane.
The calm man, who has shown time and time again that he can steady a rocking ship, has arrived at a safe harbour.
Despite the chaos at Birmingham, I am told that Hughton sought assurances from Norwich that the niceties would be conducted properly: that Birmingham would be correctly compensated for losing their manager and his coaching staff.
A decent, principled man, you see.
Now he has a job to do for us.
Like Lambert, he will play passing football and keep possession when possible but, like Lambert, Hughton is not averse to being a tad more direct on occasion. Hughton made effective use of Andy Carroll at Newcastle and Nikola Zigic at Birmingham (all 6ft 8ins of him).
Now we might have to cope without Grant Holt. He will definitely have to live within a budget which will be among the smallest in the division. I believe the correct word for what the new manager is facing is “challenges”.
There really is such a thing as second season syndrome. Clubs who carry momentum with them into the Premier League do run out of steam in the second season. And other managers suss out their players.
If Lambert had stayed, he would have found it astonishingly difficult to match last season’s 12th place. Realistically, finishing 17th this time would have been a triumph, as it always is for any club without a billionaire backer.
Lambert’s achievements mean that there is a danger that Hughton will be judged an inadequate replacement by some if he “only” keeps City in the Premier League.
That would be wrong. But it won’t trouble him if it happens. He has suffered the slings and arrows of football long enough and managed to remain sanguine.
He’s a good man.
Let’s show him what exceptional fans we can be. Let’s teach him that, win or lose, the Yellow Army will mobilise for long away trips. Let’s demonstrate that the Norfolk Nation are every bit as vocal as those self-regarding Geordies.
We might call him Hoootun, but we’ll cheer him and his players to the echo.
Ian Danter, the talkSPORT commentator and presenter who is a Brummie, sent me a text about Hughton. It read: “You take care of that bloke.”
We will, Dants.
The adventure continues.
Good article Mick, I love the man already.
Carol Gilmore says
Well done to your board for appointing Chris Hughton, the lad is a diamond and very decent human being.
However I must take issue with your statement the ‘Geordie Nation wanted one of their own’ ie Alan Shearer. That is utter rubbish, that appointment was a board decision, I dont know one NUFC fan who want Al as manager, not at that point anyhow, we were as shocked as the rest of the footballing community. Maybe in the future when he had earned his spurs and got a bit of experience under his belt. Personally I think Al is too arrogant to start at the bottom, he will always be my footballing hero, but as a person he maybe leaves a lot to be desired.
When you come to St James’ next season and see and hear the reception Chris gets, you will realise how well liked and respected he was and still is.
Irish Canary says
Great stuff Mr Dennis. Here’s hoping for a sucessfull Irish lead push for top 10 in 2012-13. OTBC