Rash decisions could undo Newcastle’s progress

Posted: December 6, 2010 by undergroundfisherman in Sport
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hard done by: Hughton's work had only just begun

In the run-up to the new season, I wrote about how Newcastle United could be a team to look out for, with their down-to-earth manager and their young, talented squad (pieced together on a shoestring budget), the newly-promoted former giants looked as though they had finally achieved a certain level of stability after years in the doldrums. https://universalgrassroots.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/newcastle-united-the-tragic-heroes-of-football/

And indeed, this proved to be the case as the early stages of the season unfolded, with the Magpies picking up wins against the likes of Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea, and most notably Aston Villa (6-0), and Sunderland (5-1). Inevitably, there were low points too, such as Hatem Ben Arfa’s terrible leg injury, suffered at the hands of a defeat by Man City, and dismal performances against Blackpool, Blackburn, and most recently, West Brom. Having said that, the Toon Army currently sit 11th in the league, ahead of the  likes of Fulham, Everton and Villa. Why, then, has owner Mike Ashley decided that now was the right time to get rid of manager Chris Hughton, who had achieved so much in his 14 months in charge. A 55% win rate from 70 games, 102 points in the Chapionship last year. Statistics tell their own story, and these particular ones show that Hughton was the man to raise St James’ Park club from their mediocre status.

The first thought that came into my head when I heard the news this morning (Dec 6th), was the similarity between Hughton’s dismissal and that of Sir Bobby Robson, four games into the 2004/5 season. Parallels between the late, great Geordie and their newest casualty are plentiful; Robson had taken over in 1999, with the club rooted to the bottom of the Premiership, before slowly turning them around with a series of shrewd signings and a positive attacking style, reminiscent of the great Kevin Keegan era. Robson even brought them into the Champions League, because he was given the time, money and patience to do so.

Sir Bobby, 1999: Brought the good times back to Tyneside in a way few could have imagined

Hughton has been the best Newcastle manager since Robson, but time,  patience and money are no longer in fashion in Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct @ St James’ Park. The grim inevitability of the whole situation is perhaps the worst aspect, it has long been established through media sources that Ashley has wanted a more “showbiz” manager, after Hughton had essentially taken over by default when Joe Kinnear fell ill. Martin O’Neill currently stands at 7/2 to replace the former Ireland defender at Tyneside, but, considering the way in which O’Neill left Aston Villa, this move seems unlikely. Villa chairman, the American tycoon Randy Lerner, is seen as one of the more decent and rational money-men in the game, but O’Neill walked out when he discovered Lerner was unwilling to fork out too much cash during the summer transfer window.

Ben Arfa's capture was a stroke of genius by Hughton

The reasons behind Hughton’s sacking are much like the reasons you would dump a girlfriend before Christmas – so you don’t have to buy her a present. Hughton had identified a number of January transfer targets which could have helped the squad keep the momentum going after the testing Christmas schedule and beyond. Utrecht’s £8 million-rated Ricky Van Wolfswinkel was one such target, and talk of Robbie Keane, Niko Kranjcar and even Manchester United’s Anderson had been mentioned as potential new arrivals. Clearly, Ashley was not prepared to spend money on a manager he didn’t have faith in. When we look at Hughton’s dealings in the transfer market, however, we can see he has a keen eye for a bargain. Free transfer Sol Campbell has proved a worthy understudy to Fabricio Colloccini,  loan signing Hatem Ben Arfa’s talent is known the world over (although Hughton’s departure may jeopardise a permanent move to the North-East), while Cheik Tiote’s dominant performances in midfield have been one of the few consistent elements in what has been a rollercoaster season so far.

Sad as it may seem, the damage has been done now, and the Newcastle board will live and die by the decisions they make in the next few weeks.


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