Tuesday 23 January 2018

Exclusive: 'The hardest period I had as a manager was in my second season at Norwich'- Chris Hughton

Brighton manager Chris Hughton
Brighton manager Chris Hughton
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Imagine how it feels to be a football manager who gets sacked in front of an audience revelling in your humiliation.

Belittled in the weeks and months before the axe falls, your departure is greeted with delight by a baying mob that have used social media sites as a platform to throw abuse at you in the most vile way imaginable. Your dismissal is a source of delight your jubilant for your former supporters, who dance on your grave with merciless delight.

Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho were among the high profile victims of the sack race in 2015, with Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal currently the star name in focus as fans call for him to be removed.

This is the grizzly scenario all sign up for when they enter the lucrative and volatile world of management, with former Ireland full-back Chris Hughton among those who has experienced the highs and lows that are inevitable in the modern game.

Hughton knows all about the pitfalls of throwing yourself into the most unstable job of them all, with Newcastle and Norwich among the clubs that have dispensed of his services in brutal fashion in recent years.

Hughton has told Independent.ie every game has become a trial for managers, with quick-fire change the easy route out for under-pressure club owners.

“There are several qualities you need to be a manager right now and maybe the most important one is a very, very thick skin,” begins Hughton, who is in charge of a Brighton side that is riding high at the top of the Championship.

“I am not one who likes to use the phrase ‘back in the day’, but there is no doubt managers were working under a very different set of rules not so long ago.

“When a manager got the sack in my days as a player, it tended to be after a sustained run of poor results. It used to be a big decision to change a manager, but not any more. There was something of a stigma attached to a manager when he got the sack 20 years ago because he was associated with failing, but that has gone.

SOCCER Brig_14.jpg
Chris Hughton: ‘Wonderful things happening’

“Now, you take on a job knowing that sooner rather than later, you will be out of that club and the speed that a ‘crisis’ develops in now is so rapid. Every manager is three or four games away from being under pressure and if you leave a club,which is a crazy situation in many ways.

“None of us like the demand for instant success, but we know what we are getting ourselves into when we come into it, so I suppose we can have no complaints about the way the game has gone.

“If you don’t like it, then do something else with your life. We all know that we will get the sack at some point in this job and when that happens, it is a case of dusting yourself down and going again.

“I remember being in a shopping centre at 3pm on a Saturday shortly after I left Newcastle and I didn’t like that. When you are part of this game, you want to stay in it for as long as possible and I guess that is why we keep coming back for more.”

Hughton’s exits at Newcastle and Norwich was shoddily handled by incompetent club officials that failed to show the dignity this charming tactician merited and it is the second of those two dismissals that proved to be his most painful.

“The hardest period I had as a manager was in my second season at Norwich,” he recalls. “We finished 11th in the Premier League after my first year at the club and if I am being honest, we probably over-achieved.

“We won a game at Manchester City on the final day of the campaign that propelled us up the table and the expectation after that was that we could push on from them and do even more the following season.

“It didn’t work out for us and I knew the pressure was building for a long time before I left the club. That build-up is not nice and I suppose it is humiliating when you are sacked and everyone see it unfolding in such a public way, but that is the business we are in.

“At this moment in time, things are going well for me at Brighton and the truth may be that you don’t have a chance to appreciate the good times like this because you are just thinking about the next game and trying to keep a run going.

“It is only when you have a run of poor results that you start to consider what is going wrong and have a broader view of the everything around you, but I have a policy of never reading newspapers and that has served me well. You are aware that negative things are being said when your team are losing, but the least you know about it the better.

Chris Hughton. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire.

“Sadly, some people involved in the game are affected by what the media or the fans are saying and that is when decisions are made after a few poor results. This is the way the game has gone and it won’t change any time soon.”

Hughton can tell when a manager is creaking under pressure from the way he deals with the media, with Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood among those who caught his eye prior to his sacking in October.

“I don’t know Tim too well, but I looked at his post match press conferences and it was evident that he was struggling to enjoy the situation he was in,” adds Hughton.

“I have been there and it’s not a nice place to be. You try and explain why your team have lost, but people are not really listening any more and Brendan Rodgers found himself in that position at Liverpool.

“You see the pressure Jose Mourinho was under at Chelsea  and that says it all about football in 2015. Here is a manager who has won it all and lifted the Premier League title last May and even he is not immune to pressures now. If Mourinho gets into trouble, anyone can.”

The huge pay-offs managers get when they are given the boot provides some compensation, but it must be tough to dust yourself down, allow your pride to heal and start all over again.

Only the strongest survive on a managerial battlefield that eventually claims every combatant as a victim. What a ruthless business this has become.


Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) – 6963 days

Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – 1107 days

Mark Hughes (Stoke) – 878 days

Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City) – 853 days

Roberto Martinez (Everton) – 846 days

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