Hughton hungry for managerial return
It's fair to say there have been some bizarre and wholly unfair boardroom decisions regarding the fate of Premier League managers this season. West Ham's hierarchy sought out Martin O'Neill before issuing an embarrassing vote of confidence to Avram Grant when he rejected them; West Brom fired Roberto Di Matteo despite the newly-promoted side occupying the top six until November; and Blackburn got rid of Sam Allardyce and hired Steve Kean - a decision comparable to replacing a police commissioner with a community support officer.
The men upstairs have had plenty of moments of madness in 2010-11, but of all the top-flight injustices there was one that left a particularly sour taste in the mouths of football fans the country over: Newcastle United's merciless sacking of Chris Hughton.
Despite masterminding the club's return to the Premier League, having steadied the ship at a time when a Leeds United-style decline appeared a real possibility, and then overseen some excellent performances - including a 6-0 destruction of Aston Villa, a 5-1 Tyne-Wear derby thrashing of Sunderland and a 1-0 victory at Arsenal - in the club's first few months back in the top flight, Hughton was unceremoniously dumped in December.
Newcastle were 11th in the table at the time and many of Hughton's players came out in support of their axed boss, with captain Kevin Nolan revealing the dressing room were "shocked" by the decision. The reason given by the club's hierarchy for the sacking was as insulting as it was inequitable. "Regrettably the board now feels that an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward," the official statement read.
Five months on and it would be understandable if Hughton held a grudge against his former employers, whose public support was hardly forthcoming throughout his tenure. But there is not a spiteful bone in his body and he continues to conduct himself with all the integrity of a man who kept Newcastle on an upward trajectory when off-field uncertainty threatened to force the club to sink without a trace.
"I think you have to accept it," Hughton tells ESPNsoccernet. "There are lots of different emotions and I think most managers tend to keep most of those emotions to themselves because ultimately there isn't much you can do about it. All you can do is push on and look for the next challenge and be proud of the job that you have done. I certainly was very proud of the job I did at Newcastle, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I think I've learned from my experiences there and I hope that makes me a better manager for the time that I spent there.
"I must admit, I haven't seen Newcastle live since I left, either at the stadium or on the television. It's just the human emotions that go with leaving the club. They have an incredible support and you always want the club to do well because of what it means to you. It's a club I managed for just under half the season so I want to see them continue to do well. The players were great for me during my time there, they are Premier League players - as they have continued to show. They will take it through to the end of the season and I think will continue to do well."
The former Tottenham defender arrived on Tyneside as first-team coach under Kevin Keegan in 2008, at the behest of then director of football Dennis Wise. This meant Hughton was immediately tarnished with the 'Cockney Mafia' tag, a term used odiously by Newcastle fans to describe owner Ashley and his cohorts. But, in contrast to the reviled Don Ashley and Consiglieres Wise and Derek Llambias, Hughton would go on to win over the Toon faithful, earning Tony Montana-esque popular acclaim.
It wouldn't be an easy ride, however. When Keegan left the club in acrimonious circumstances along with his backroom staff, Hughton remained, as if to highlight the divide between the former boss and Ashley. Hughton was named caretaker manager but his first managerial reign lasted just two games as Joe Kinnear was brought in on a short-term contract. If Keegan had been Toon fans' Messiah, Kinnear was the incarnation of Beelzebub and unfortunately for Hughton, he was a minion.
When Kinnear fell ill just a few months into his reign Hughton again stepped into the hotseat, though he was soon replaced once more, this time by Geordie icon Alan Shearer. Working alongside Shearer, the former Spurs and Ireland assistant couldn't help the club avoid relegation but when the local hero left the club, Hughton vowed to stick around and was appointed caretaker for the third time.
Working in difficult circumstances - the club had been put up for sale and the likelihood was that he would be immediately replaced should a new owner be found - Hughton tried to prepare for Newcastle's first campaign in the second tier in 16 years. Despite operating in challenging conditions and with a contract believed to be one of the least lucrative in the Championship, Hughton made astute free transfer and loan signings and watched his side make a barnstorming start to the new season. That he had to win two of the first three Manager of the Month awards before Ashley finally named him permanent boss was outrageous, but he was finally handed an 18-month deal in October.
With Andy Carroll firing in the goals and the hungry Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton providing quality in midfield, the Magpies' promotion back to the Premier League never looked in doubt. With two games of the season remaining, Hughton delivered the Toon their first trophy since 1993. It may have only been the Championship title but, in winning silverware, he succeeded where plenty of illustrious others - Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Graeme Souness and Bobby Robson among them - had failed.
Ultimately, it was not enough for Hughton. An honest, loyal individual, it is clear to see why he did not fit the bill for the Newcastle hierarchy. The pain of December's St James' Park exit may not be as fresh, but even Hughton's polite and considered responses cannot mask a disappointment at the way events unfolded. The overwhelming support he received from the fans of Newcastle United, who criticised their owner's decision, provided some silver lining.
"I was aware of it [the support] and I've had hundreds of letters through different avenues. That I was very thankful for - in whichever fashion you lose your job, it's always a very difficult time afterwards so I was very much appreciative of that and the support I did get. When you leave a job where you feel you've done a good job and you feel you can be proud of what you've done, you look forward to going back there at some stage.
"It is such a magnificent city and club, I look forward to the day that I can go back. There are lots of different emotions that you have but the overriding one is that you have to make the most of the experiences you have had, wish them well and then you have to move on."
Since leaving Newcastle, Hughton has been linked with a number of jobs, including the West Ham and West Brom posts, and it would seem a return to football management could be on the cards this summer.
"All you can do is make yourself as busy as possible. What I have been doing is watching plenty of games, not only Premier League games, but Championship and abroad also. It's about keeping yourself busy and active in the football arena.
"There have been offers that I've been reasonably close to [accepting]. Probably as the season has gone on, the likelihood has been that any opportunities would be towards the end of the season or at the end of the season. I am very conscious that there are a lot of very good managers also in the position that I am but certainly I feel I will be better for the experiences I've had. Sometimes when you have this break it recharges the batteries a little bit and the thirst for getting back in becomes even greater."
Chris Hughton was speaking on behalf of Barclays Ticket Office, which is giving fans the chance to win a pair of free Barclays Premier League tickets every 90 minutes throughout the 2010-11 Barclays Premier League season. Request a receipt from any Barclays ATM to enter, or visitwww.barclaysticketoffice.com