Sport Soccer

Saturday 25 March 2017

Magpies' vision blurred by addiction to chaos

David Kelly

David Kelly

Seems like Newcastle United and solidity just don't get on. Like a drug addict dulled by the routine of life without intense highs and lows, the club's recidivist flirtation with self-inflicted disaster just had to find a way out of this worrying period of stability.

So, dumping a manager who had inculcated such a solid state of affairs, on and off the pitch, within the dressing-room and on the terraces, was the obvious consequence of merely inhabiting 11th place in a Premier League vacated, it must be recalled, in such farcical circumstances under local hero Alan Shearer two seasons ago.

Yesterday morning, Chris Hughton woke up nearly two years into a project which, although not without its obvious difficulties, had earned him much praise for resembling the path previously trodden by another managerial virgin nearly 20 years ago, a certain Kevin Keegan.

This morning, the 51-year-old former Irish international wakes up without a job, the humiliation wrought upon him etched out in the white chalk on the bookie's boards that shows that Alan Pardew is among the favourites to succeed him.

Quietly

Paid a modest £500,000 per annum, it will probably cost the club a third of that to usher Hughton out the door. Quietly securing Premier League safety was not beyond Hughton's capabilities; clearly, it has been beyond the blurred vision of his paymasters.

Hughton's departure was inevitable once his assistant, Colin Calderwood, left for pastures new -- and better paid -- two months ago and the club delayed both the search for a successor and the opening of new contract talks with the manager.

Hughton will presumably accompany such a traumatic decision with the dignity that he has carried throughout his entire playing and coaching career; he has never enticed celebrity nor flirted with sensation.

Perhaps this has been his ultimate downfall in a club inextricably linked with soap opera. We do not expect to see Gazza calling around to the Hughtons with a sympathetic can of Brown Ale and a chicken box.

"There are some over-powering personalities in football," Hughton said last year. "But I prefer to be low-key, to be judged on actions rather than words." Shamefully, the Newcastle United hierarchy deviated from these principles.

Mercifully, his loyal players, who have demonstrated little of the mutiny witnessed by a Rooney or a Tevez, were stunned by yesterday's decision, reflecting the integrity and honesty of someone responsible for integrating Andy Carroll and Joey Barton in the same team.

More, aside from his husbandry of the errant Carroll, his influence in launching the former's England career reflected well on someone who was the first in England to reach the highest level of UEFA coaching qualifications in the early 1990s.

"This will hit the players hard," said Sol Campbell, a veteran whose nose for bad smells sharpened during an ill-fated glimpse at Notts County. "The players admired him and liked him and won't be happy now he's gone like this.

"It makes no sense. Here is a guy who has done an unbelievable job. He got the club back into the Premier League and any manager would have been rewarded for that with a new contract, but Chris wasn't.

"The players are sure to be asking themselves, 'What the hell is going on?', that is only natural. When we left training this morning none of the players had a clue this was coming. Yes, it has come as a shock, and it will affect the dressing-room, there is no doubt about that."

Newcastle mentioned in their risible statement that they requires someone with "more managerial experience" who could take the club "forward" -- what else is promotion from the Championship into the mid-table of the Premier League but forward movement, especially given what happened under messrs Kinnear, Dowie, Shearer et al?

This is the 51-year-old Chris Hughton who was a coach and then assistant manager at Tottenham from 1993 to 2007, and served as assistant to Brian Kerr in the Republic of Ireland set-up for two years.

He has considerably more experience now -- his Championship record was expunged from Newcastle's shabby statement -- than when taking up the reins after the disastrous Shearer/Dowie double act.

Predictably, Shearer's glib persona edged into view last evening, spouting crocodile tears at the exit of a man he himself had done so much to undermine during his calamitous stint in charge, before shamelessly conceding his interest in taking up the post.

Caretaker

Peter Beardsley (pictured) is in caretaker charge, with Steve Stone in tow, presumably as translator.

Pardew's unseemly haste in declaring his interest confirmed that the game simply does not have enough room for gentleman like Chris Hughton any more.

Or perhaps his introduction of a refined form of player democracy, initially to quell dissent and forge harmony, ultimately came back to haunt him when injuries and suspensions undermined his previously steady hand.

Still, Alan Pardew? This is the same Pardew whose last installation as a top-flight boss in the month of December ended up in relegation (with Charlton Athletic).

One hesitates to suggest that Mike Ashley and his cohorts may just get what they wish for. A reign of chaos.

When it begins next Saturday, with Beardsley in the dug-out facing his former club Liverpool, Hughton will quietly celebrate his 52nd birthday with his family.

It will be a bittersweet occasion.

Irish Independent

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