Monday 1 May 2017

'If there aren't more high-profile black managers in 10 years, something will have gone badly wrong' - Hughton

Brighton rock attributes success in management to hard work, honesty and level-headed approach

Brighton boss Chris Hughton
Brighton boss Chris Hughton
Chris Hughton will be hoping to lead Brighton back to top spot in the Championship tonight. Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

Chris Hughton has never held any ill-will towards Newcastle United. There has been no hint of bitterness, no trace of animosity, no negative thoughts at all - until now.

When Hughton was sacked by Newcastle in December 2010, just six months after he had led the team back into the Premier League in his first job as a manager, helping to save the club after the shock of relegation, they were 11th.

It was a decision taken solely in the boardroom. There had been no calls for him to go from supporters, no rebellion in the dressing room either, yet he was tossed aside.

There was disappointment, but it is a bruise that healed a long time ago. He left with a sense of unfairness, but also an appreciation and love for the city, the club and its supporters.

The former Ireland international and Tottenham hero, who was also assistant manager to Brian Kerr, still has those feelings but they have been supplanted by other powerful emotions at Brighton.

Now they are rivals, the relationship contorted by the tension of a high-stakes game at the top of the Championship.

Newcastle are first, Brighton are second, but will return to the summit if they beat Sheffield Wednesday tonight.

"I've had three clubs since I left Newcastle," said Hughton.

"I've always had a great reception when I've gone back there and had a wonderful time living up there, but at this moment, in the games Newcastle play, I really don't want them to win.

"It's strange for me because I have such affection for the club, but for the first time I don't want them to do well.

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"There is a really good feel up there at the moment. I have lot of respect for Rafa Benítez, they are getting crowds of more than 50,000 in the Championship, it's incredible, but there is a really good thing happening here at Brighton as well. They are the rivals we want to beat."

Hughton is a manager who proves nice guys can win. He is a dignified, honest and honourable man working in an industry that does not normally bring those traits out in people.

He is bright, with a grasp of life outside the football bubble, and since leaving Newcastle the 58-year-old has begun to attract the praise his achievements deserve.

He is a rarity in the British game - a high-profile black manager, albeit one who hopes in 10 years that he no longer has to act as a standard bearer.

"I don't mind talking about it now because it's an important subject," he said. "But there are more and more black coaches in the academies and at grassroots level and they should start to filter upwards.

"If there aren't more in high-profile roles in 10 years, something will have gone badly wrong. It's the same in other industries. There aren't enough black faces in boardrooms, but I think they want to change and so does football."

Having lost to Wednesday in the play-off semi-finals last season, there were doubts Brighton could mount another challenge.

However, until last weekend's shock defeat at Preston, Hughton's side had not lost since September.

Most managers could not help but crow. If they were reluctant to boast about their achievements, they would at least want to talk about them.

Self-promotion is all part of the game, but it is not something Hughton indulges in.

"It's very difficult for me to talk about myself, it's not something I enjoy," Hughton explained. "Brighton are all I think about.

"If there is one rule I have, it is you have to remain level-headed. Don't get carried away when things go well, don't get carried away when they go badly.

"What I do know as a manager, as a person, is that you have to try and be honest with everyone around you. If I leave a player out, they deserve an explanation. It's about communication, about being clear in what you want.

"Yes, I am tougher than I look. You can't survive in this business unless you have a toughness, you need extremely broad shoulders.

"Every day, there are hard decisions to make, so I'm not as nice as I may seem."

Hughton, the son of an Irish mother and a Ghanaian father, grew up in a very different East End to the gentrified, hipster hang-outs that now spread out from Shoreditch to Essex. He is a working-class boy who knew what the label once meant.

The former full-back is where he is today "because, first and foremost, I've always worked extremely hard and do everything to the best of my ability", but also because of the values instilled in him by his parents.

"They are working-class people from a time when you had to work hard," Hughton explained.

"Even if it meant taking two jobs to support your family as mine did. They are down-to-earth, honest people and I hope I have the same traits.

"I grew up in a different time, but when I stand in a dressing room and talk to players, they are from the same world as me.

"In the main, they are also from working-class backgrounds. I understand that. I can relate to them because we have been on the same journey.

"Could I have gone into politics? No, probably not. I've been a lifelong member of the Labour Party, but I've never been a radical thinker.

" I've always had a social conscience. I still strongly believe in a diverse Britain, a fair, caring society, but it tends to be who is playing in the next game that keeps me up at night," he said.

"This job consumes you, it takes over your life. I don't have time to worry about the state of the world any more."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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