Monday 19 March 2018

Car-Toon Army...

From Messiahs to madness, there can surely be no other Barclays Premier League club in modern times whose managerial escapades have attracted quite so much adulation and derision in equal part.

At St James' Park, it seems, they like to do things with headlines in mind, which was one of the suggestions offered this week as the reason for the otherwise mystifying dismissal of Chris Hughton.

Hughton, it was rumoured, was not big-time enough for Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, who sought a replacement with experience and profile. One might have expected Ashley to be quite sick of the headlines by now.

Ashley's Newcastle have frequently found themselves subjected to ridicule. First they were blamed by Kevin Keegan for undue meddling in squad affairs. Then they dropped into the Championship and Ashley made no secret of his desire to leave.

Out of the carnage came the steadying hand of Hughton, promoted from his initial role as caretaker manager in October 2009, and impressively leading the club to the Championship title at the first attempt.

After years of headlines for the wrong reasons, Hughton's respectful, modest and understated approach was just what the Magpies needed. The players responded by establishing mid-table status back in the top-flight.

Wins over the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa followed. The squad's potential trouble-makers like Joey Barton and Andy Carroll appeared to revel under Hughton, who was clearly adept at massaging prickly egos.

Hughton's sudden departure came with club lying 12th in the top-flight table. The prospect of relegation had rarely been noted. Hughton was getting on with the job of remoulding Newcastle back into a top-flight club.

It didn't matter who Ashley appointed as Hughton successor. He could have tempted a big name like Martin O'Neill or Frank Rijkaard, or gone down the fan-friendly route of giving another Messiah a shot in the shape of Peter Beardsley.

What matters about the whole unseemly affair is that Ashley appears incapable, even averse, to controlling a steady ship. Just when it seemed the club was equipped to float into a brighter future, another self-inflicted hole appeared in the quarter-deck.

Hughton was, surprisingly, the first top-flight manager to lose his job this season. Even if all their 19 Premier League rivals had dispensed with their bosses earlier, the chances are Hughton's dismissal would still have been the most stupid.

Most Newcastle players and fans could appreciate the job Hughton was doing. Now the dressing room egos are shifting uneasily and the fans find their proud club subjected to widespread ridicule once more.

King Kev, Big Al, Sir Bob: all took their chance in the St James' Park hot-seat and couldn't quite manage to conquer. What chance Hughton's successor? The only direction the Mike Ashley roadshow seems to be heading is down.

Whisper it, but Sepp may have a point: for all FIFA's shady voting practices and apparently broken promises, the real lesson we ought to learn is that arrogance will get us nowhere.

We can wheel out as much royalty as we like to talk about bringing football home; we can revel in a brilliant technical bid which, if its results were heeded, would ensure World Cups remained the preserve of western European nations for ever more.

We can express outrage over those broken promises, and we can react to our embarrassment by hinting at all sorts of corrupt practices among delegates to whom only hours earlier were cosying up and chasing votes.

The fact, plain and simple, is that Russia deserved the World Cup more than us. They have never been given the chance before, and they will stage a tournament like no other - and there is nothing to say they will not do it better than us.

It is sad that England will not stage another World Cup for the foreseeable future. But it has never been our divine right to do so. Perhaps it was our conviction that it was that ended up costing us dear.

Press Association

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