Brighton became the latest club to part ways with Chris Hughton and in doing so, encountered similar criticism to that faced by his previous employers, Norwich and Newcastle.
The national media were joined by many ‘neutrals’ on social media to condemn the decision; the general inference being that those clubs which sit outside of the higher echelons should basically accept their position and be grateful for it.
Premier League safety and an F.A. Cup semi-final? You’re Brighton – what more do you expect?
Presumably the Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United fans, who were so quick to criticise, are also fully accepting of their revised standing in football’s hierarchy post-Guardiola and Klopp, and won’t be demanding change if the ‘best’ they can hope for is an annual battle for 4th place?
It’s understandable why there was a certain sympathy for Hughton. He’s a polite, dignified and decent man and viewed from a far, his achievements stand up to a degree of scrutiny.
Championship promotions with both Brighton and Newcastle were won with teams that played expansive and attacking football.
However, the challenge of the Premier League has proven to bring out a naturally cautious side to his nature. Pitted against top flight rivals, the former Republic of Ireland defender, has favoured stoic defence and a reliance on shape, discipline and structure. Platforms built, first and foremost, to avoid defeat with lone-strikers left isolated and starved of support and goal-scoring chances.
Just ask Grant Holt.
You could argue that it’s a pragmatic approach. After all, anyone who decides to slug it out and go toe to toe with the likes of Manchester City is likely to find themselves on the wrong end of a drubbing (although whatever you do, there’s always a chance of that).
But an ethos that’s built around conceding possession, being hard to beat and scraping enough points to earn the right to do it all again next season, is unlikely to keep the fans onside long-term.
Fans will accept it as a means to an end; unless that ‘end’ is simply more of the same, year after year.
We want to be entertained. We want to see progression. We want to see our boys ‘giving it a go’.
If, as seems to be the case, Hughton’s Brighton became a carbon-copy of Hughton’s Norwich, then all of those connected to The Seagulls have the right to demand more, regardless of whether national pundits and fans from ‘bigger’ clubs, agree.
However, the wider significance of Brighton’s decision, is that it served to illustrate the paucity of black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) managers within the Football League.
When Macclesfield appointed Sol Campbell as first team manager, in November 2018, he became only the eighth BAME manager across the 92 clubs in England’s top four divisions.
With Hughton’s dismissal, alongside those of Jos Luhukay (Sheffield Wednesday), Darren Moore (West Bromwich Albion) and Chris Powell (Southend United) earlier this season, that number currently stands at just four.
Less than five percent.
Little wonder perhaps that Tottenham left-back Danny Rose, recently spoke out about his desire to turn his back on the game when his playing days are over;
“When I said that, I was talking about the lack of black managers in football now, or working upstairs in football clubs. People ask me if I want to do my coaching badges. Why? You are not given a chance, so no, I wouldn’t be looking forward to doing my badges – it is a waste of time.”
Following Hughton’s sacking, Troy Townsend, who leads Kick It Out’s mentoring and leadership work, told the Telegraph;
“We are now at worse than square one. What people don’t understand is the real difficulties for black managers getting through the bottle neck at the top of football. We are talking about measly numbers. It’s so shabby.
“What are the expectations of Brighton? Surely it is to stay in the league. You are 4th from bottom and you have got to an FA Cup semi-final. I don’t get it. They must have been planning it for some time. Look at how Chris has been treated at Newcastle and Norwich and now Brighton?
“He has given Brighton another year of Premier League football and he gets repaid like this?”
Whilst reflective of genuine frustration, Townsend’s remarks were hugely unhelpful and prompted a subsequent apology from Kick It Out.
Because the comments served to blur two completely separate issues; the lack of opportunities afforded to BAME managers, alongside the circumstances under which managers are relieved of their duties.
Getting a job and losing a job are two different things.
To put it into context, across the top four divisions, Hughton became the 46th manager to lose his job during the 2018/19 season.
With 92 clubs, that equates to half.
Of the managers currently in post, the average tenure stands at 1 year and 198 days.
Hughton had been at Brighton for 4 years and 134 days.
The sack is an occupational hazard for anyone seeking a career in football management, regardless of their background, race or ethnicity.
And whilst you can question any club for what might be deemed unrealistic expectations, short-termism or knee-jerk decisions, to bring race into that particular argument, only serves to detract from the main issue.
There is a huge amount of work needed to bring about equity into the game and on providing equal opportunities to progress through coaching into management.
But genuine equality will mean that managers, BAME or otherwise, will undoubtedly fall victim to boardroom and supporter demands, and lose their jobs.