Saturday 20 January 2018

'We lost eight managers in the month of October alone': Chris Hughton not happy with sacking culture in English football

Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Brighton & Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Bob Bradley’s sacking at Swansea took the total of managerial sackings in English football to 28 this season - and Brighton boss Chris Hughton fears that number is set to spiral out of control in 2017.

The former Republic of Ireland defender is one of the few managers who has not faced the threat of the sack in the last 12 months, as he led Brighton to within a single goal of promotion to the Premier League last April and then suffered the heartbreak of defeat in the play-off semi-finals.

Hughton has recovered from that despair to lead his side to the top of the Championship heading into the New Year, yet he suggests the urgency of club owners to sack managers is unpleasant in the modern game.

“We are at a stage in our game here that you are no longer surprised when a manager loses his job,” Hughton told us.

“I think we lost eight managers in the month of October alone, which highlighted again the demand for immediate success and so many Championship managers have gone this season. You are not given time to put your ideas into a team, which is a shame, but this is not going to change.

“We have a lot more foreign owners in the game now and they might not always have a view that stability is positive at their club. They want to see them winning next weekend and changing a manager can be seen as a way they can change things.

“The extra money in the game now has brought extra pressure in many ways. If you look at the Paul Pogba deal at Manchester United last summer, it inspires pressure for everyone.

“The player has to live up to his price tag and the manager needs him to perform to justify the fee paid. The more the owner gives you, the more he expects. That situation will never change, whatever level you are operating at.”

The long-time assistant manager has proved his worth as the chief decision with spells in charge of Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich and now Brighton, as he reflected on a year that has cemented his side’s status as favourites to claim automatic promotion to the Premier League in 2017.

“The reaction we have had after the play-off disappointment has been fantastic because they was such a disappointment for everyone at this club,” he states.

“People may have been looking at us to see if we could recover from that this season and in in the Championship, the challenge is to maintain your consistency because every team in this division is capable of beating you.

“I was confident that we could compete again, but you just don’t know how big clubs like Derby, Leeds and Aston Villa would perform this season. Then, of course, we always expected to see Newcastle at the top of the table given the squad they have.

“We deserve to be where we are now and there is no option other than to go from game to game and we are desperately trying to make sure no one at this club gets carried away.

“The Championship is a division that is non-stop. You win three games in a row and everything is on the up, but a week later you may have lost a couple and drawn a game and suddenly it all looks very different.

“You can play eight games in a month in this league and you absolutely can’t afford to have a prolonged bad spell.”

Hughton’s association with Irish soccer saw him win the race to sign Richie Towell from Dundalk last summer, yet the Dubliner’s failure to make an impact in his Brighton team has fuelled fears that the door to English football is harder than ever to push ajar for rising Irish stars.

Hughton insists his club is still looking to Ireland in their search for talent, but he admits the flow of players moving to England’s top club has been halted by the influx of foreign signings.

“The English clubs are still looking to Ireland for players, of course they are,” he adds.

“What has changed is the clubs over in Ireland have got a little wiser to what they can get out of a deal. A good few years ago, English clubs were picking up Irish players for virtually nothing, but those days have gone now.

“Clubs like Reading, Aston Villa and Ipswich are always looking to Ireland for players and there will always be talent coming from our country. It is place where kids are passionate about football and that will never change.

“It has become more difficult to get a break at one of the top Premier League clubs because they have the finances to buy ready made players. That means taking a chance on a talented Irish or English kid and putting him in a first team is not so appealing, but I like to think the chance is always there for talented boys to come over from Ireland and do well here.”

Stephen Kenny deserved all the plaudits that came his way as he collected a clutch of Manager of the Year prizes in 2016 after his heroics with Dundalk, but it is another Irishman who deserves to be hailed as the finest tactician of the year in the English game after a wonderfully consistent season for Brighton.

Hughton should be strong contender to succeed Martin O’Neill as the next Republic of Ireland manager and by then, he will be hoping to be a Premier League manager all over again.

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