x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hughton can hold head high

The manager Hughton's sacking by Newcastle United was farcical, and sums up the club, but he acted with dignity throughout.

Chris Hughton guided Newcastle United to 12th place with a small budget, yet he was sacked by the club on Monday.
Chris Hughton guided Newcastle United to 12th place with a small budget, yet he was sacked by the club on Monday.

Chris Hughton was a dead man walking before he was sacked by Newcastle United. He knew it. Everyone in football knew it. I was a guest on the BBC's Match of the Day programme recently and was asked about him. I could hardly repeat what I had heard on the grapevine, but my bemused reaction said it all.

Newcastle wanted him out, despite him doing a superb job at the club. He was being undermined left, right and centre and yet he retained his dignity.

He had stepped in as caretaker manager several times before taking the job full time. In spite of budgets being slashed and being told to get rid of several of his high earners, Hughton led Newcastle to the championship title with a record points total and the longest unbeaten run in their history.

Despite being at a big club with average crowds close to 50,000, Hughton was among the lowest paid Premier League managers. He led his side to 11th and oversaw some good results, yet even as he was achieving them the ground was being cut from beneath him.

When Colin Calderwood, his assistant, was allowed to leave without much effort to keep him, Hughton saw more of his support within the club eroded. He wanted to bring in his own No 2, but my old strike partner Peter Beardsley was offered the job.

Hughton did not want Beardsley. He did not want him around the first team at all, yet Beardsley still turned up. I like Beardsley, but he is not scoring well on football's grapevine at the moment.

Crucially, Hughton had the support of the players in what is a notoriously difficult dressing room to control. He held together personalities like Joey Barton and Andy Carroll while they were making headlines for the wrong reasons.

Few managers were as popular with his players as Hughton. The players wanted to perform for him and they enjoyed a lot of highs together, like when they hammered rivals Sunderland 5-1 - the biggest win over them for over 40 years. I have lived up there in the north east of England so I know how fierce that rivalry is.

Hughton could have beaten Manchester United 5-0 and he would still have been on thin ice because Mike Ashley, the owner, wanted him out.

Don't take what Hughton did for granted. Previous managers Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer would have loved to have had the results he was getting. They were big names, by the way.

I have heard the feeble excuses given by Newcastle as they tried to justify the sacking.

Like the one that they want a bigger-name manager.

Alan Pardew is Hughton's replacement. I know and like Pardew, but he's not that much of a bigger name than Hughton. And what can he do that Hughton couldn't on such a limited budget? I could maybe understand the decision more if Newcastle had a grand plan and were about to spend £100 million (Dh579m) on new blood and wanted to bring in a really bigger coach as boss, but they don't.

And anyway, look at what happened when Newcastle did splash the cash. They were relegated with a bloated, expensive squad. It is a farce, it is incompetent, it is a shambles.

What also surprises me is that Mike Ashley is a hugely successful businessman.

He has clearly made many good decisions to amass a £200m-plus fortune.

So why is he making a terrible one which has outraged most Newcastle fans? Or his prime customers if he wants to look at it that way?

It is almost as if he wants to be hated by Newcastle fans and wants to punish them for turning against him. Or did he feel threatened by Hughton's popularity?

Supporters did not like him celebrating too much after the Sunderland win and accused him of "milking" the victory.

Newcastle has a history of instability and mad decisions, but when I played there it was a stable club.

Sir John Hall was the chairman who invested millions into the club and he loved the manager Kevin Keegan. It created a decent vibe which has long gone. The only person who has come out of the sacking with any credit is Hughton.

His dignity shone through and he will get a good job in football, a better one than he would have been offered five years ago.

He is a grounded man who conducts himself well in interviews, he does not court controversy or the limelight and his teams have a strong work ethic.

I hope that he can return with a club who appreciate his qualities because while the fans did at Newcastle, the man paying his wages did not.