Martin Jol: Chris Hughton's Tottenham connections help rise to top
Martin Jol is not easily lost for words but on Aug. 18, 2012 he struggled to find the right ones.
Jol's Fulham had just opened the Premier League season with a resounding 5-0 home win but the Dutchman found himself shifting uncomfortably in his office afterwards. The victory had come at the expense of Chris Hughton's Norwich and Jol took no pleasure in humiliating his friend and former assistant in his first game as Canaries boss.
"What can you say? You can't say: 'I feel for you' or whatever because he's a winner," Jol told ESPN FC. "I wasn't even happy! Afterwards I saw Chris and he was such a gentleman. He wasn't angry, but I felt for him and just thought: 'Bloody hell'. I want to beat everyone but to beat Chris ... 2-1 would've been better."
Jol's affection for Hughton dates back to June 2004, when the former West Brom midfielder returned to England to take a job as assistant to Tottenham's new head coach Jacques Santini. Jol was never compatible with the surly Frenchman but he immediately found an ally in Hughton, who had been a coach at Spurs since 1993. When Santini quit after just 13 matches, they formed the managerial partnership that would begin Tottenham's return to relevance.
Ahead of Hughton's return to Spurs as Brighton manager on Wednesday, there is no-one more enthusiastic about his qualities as a coach and a person than Jol.
"[When I got the job] it wasn't for me to say: 'OK I want my own assistant' because I knew 'Chrissy' -- we had worked together for three months. I didn't even have to ask him. It was a natural thing," Jol said.
As the pair set about undoing Santini's turgid defensive tactics and gradually turning Spurs into European contenders, Jol found Hughton to be the perfect deputy.
"He wants to work because -- and this may be a negative word -- he's a workaholic," Jol said. "When Santini took over, he stayed and there was nothing to do for him! He wants to coach, to be involved. You can't wish for a better man next to you. He's second to none."
Under Spurs chairman Daniel Levy's preferred continental model, Frank Arnesen -- and later Damien Comolli -- acted as technical director, leaving Jol's sole responsibility to coach the first team. He was happy to organise training sessions himself, leaving Hughton, who had served under seven different Spurs managers before him, to take on more of a man-management role.
"He's more like a manager [than me] -- I was a coach. Harry Redknapp and [Sir Alex] Ferguson -- they're more English-style managers and Chris was educated like that. He was very hands on. He's firm, he's fair," Jol explained.
Jol feels that Hughton has occasionally been "underestimated" as a manager and the former defender, who spent 11 years as a first team player at Spurs, has certainly confounded early expectations. The 59-year-old's friend and former teammate Ossie Ardiles, who gave him his first coaching job at the club, has admitted he was "surprised he became a manager" and it is easy to imagine that someone so unfailingly measured and polite is better suited to a role as a second in command -- a notion Jol fiercely rejects.
"He's not quiet! He loves football. He wants to talk about football. Even during training he talked about football. He tried to educate the players. He's not quiet but he's a gentleman. He's conscientious. He's serious. He knows all the players in the Championship. He knows all the players in almost all the leagues. That was one of the things I admired about him. He knew everything."
Jol took Tottenham to the brink of Champions League qualification for the first time at the end of the 2005-06 season, only for his squad to succumb to food poisoning ahead of the final match of the campaign, losing 2-1 to West Ham. They slipped below bitter rivals Arsenal into fifth place. The following season, they finished fifth again but expectations had been raised. With the team struggling, word spread around White Hart Lane at half time of a 2-1 defeat to Gefate in the UEFA Cup in October 2007 that Jol had been sacked and the news was confirmed soon after.
"Daniel Levy said: 'Let's call it a day'. It was a nice English phrase. And Chrissy was with me. Chrissy had to leave as well. I couldn't believe it. It was very strange. Of course it was even harder for Chris. Chris is a Tottenham man. He was there for 15 years or something -- as a coach, and he took over once or twice, as interim. It was always Chris," Jol said.
Jol would go on to manage Hamburg and Ajax in Europe before returning to England with Fulham in 2011. He immediately thought of calling Hughton but, by then, his former assistant had already "made it", having enjoyed a successful spell as Newcastle boss. He also managed Birmingham and Norwich before transforming Brighton's fortunes and Jol, who knows the pressures of managing top clubs, believes his former assistant could one day manage one of the biggest clubs in England.
"I'm desperate for someone to give him a chance, because I think he will do well," he said.
"And if he gets a chance, don't underestimate him."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.