Wednesday 23 October 2019

Chris Hughton had already held talks over plans for next season when the axe fell at Brighton

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Chris Hughton on Sunday
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Chris Hughton on Sunday
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Chris Hughton was already making plans for next season when the axe fell on his reign as Brighton manager on Monday morning.

Independent.ie can reveal that Hughton had held talks with Brighton officials over next season's preparations, with a central striker his chief target in the transfer market after a season that saw his side battling against relegation primarily due to a lack of scoring power.

Yet after guiding the club towards a third successive season in the Premier League, Brighton chairman Tony Bloom made what he described as "the most difficult decision" of his time at the club, as he dispensed of the services of the manager who saved the club from relegation from the Championship and then guided them into the top flight for the first time in 34 years.

Bloom may point to disappointing performances from Hughton's big signings of 2018, with Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Yves Bissouma, Florin Andone and Bernardo not settling as quickly as Hughton and Brighton would have wanted after reasonably healthy investment in their talents.

Yet Hughton was formulating his plans for next season.

"A striker is clearly an area we will look at in the summer, but recruitment is getting harder," he told Independent.ie last Friday.

"The fees for players two years ago has gone up dramatically and the target has to be getting a player who will fit the profile of your football club.

"At this moment, there is more value bringing players in from abroad and yet that brings issues in terms of players settling in the Premier League. What we have found at Brighton is those foreign players can take time to settle, whereas the best players in the Championship maybe cope better with the Premier League. It's all about finding that balance.

"There will always be team ahead of a club like Brighton in the Premier League and there is also a pressure to entertain and play a brand of football that people enjoy, but the priority for Brighton will always be to stay in the division and we have done that this season."

The lowest points of Hughton's reign at Brighton came last month, as his side lost home matches against Bournemouth and relegation rivals Cardiff in a manner that has ultimately encouraged Bloom to make the decision to change direction.

The 5-0 defeat against Bournemouth and 2-0 setback against Cardiff a few days later were chastening experiences for all at Brighton and Hughton admits all managers suffer from self-doubt in times of crisis.

"You can start to question yourself when results go against you as they did in that period of time," an honest Hughton continued. "I had a spell after I lost my job at Newcastle and again in my final days at Norwich and you can start to doubt yourself.

"What more can you be doing? Should you be giving different messages to the players? When will that result come that you so badly need?

"The longer it goes on, the more those doubts grow and we had a run of results here a few weeks ago where we had to take a step back, take stock and appreciate that this was a moment where we had to go back to basics.

"We were not scoring goals and while that was an issue we needed to address, but the priority for us needed to focus on getting back to what made us a successful team in the first place and that was being solid and being hard to beat.

"Clearly, the period of the Bournemouth and Cardiff game we were not hard enough to beat and we needed to halt that quickly as we could see where we were going at that point.

"The following game at Wolves saw us show the fight I expect from my players as we got a 0-0 draw and we so nearly got another point in an excellent performance at Tottenham.

"The draw at Arsenal last weekend came after we knew we would stay in this league and now we have the challenge of taking on one of the best two teams in England and trying to maintain that level.

"I found out a lot about my players in the last few weeks and the answers that have come back have been positive. We needed to show resilience to come through a very tough few weeks and they have responded.

"The morale around the club has been good during that difficult spell. We had the FA Cup run that gave us something different to focus on, but the priority of this club has to be staying in the Premier League and thankfully, we did that with a couple of games to spare."

Just a few days after he muttered those upbeat words, the manager who guided Newcastle and Brighton into the Premier League and has done a fine job in his other posts with Birmingham and Norwich found himself out of a job again.

With such a fine body of work behind him and respect within the game few can match, Hughton will not spend long looking in on the game he loves as an outsider.

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