IF football’s marketing men want an antidote to the bad examples set by Wayne Rooney snarling into the nearest TV camera and managers furiously haranguing officials, then they could do far worse than Chris Hughton.
The former Newcastle boss was dignity personified when unceremoniously dumped by the Tyneside club in December, despite hauling them back into the top flight in his first campaign and making a decent start to the season.
Hughton refused to criticise Newcastle’s maverick owner, the sportswear businessman Mike Ashley, for a decision that baffled pundits and even now, four months on, betrays only a hint of the turmoil he must have felt.
“There are lots of emotions, as always when you leave a club you don’t want to leave. But what I’ve done – and I think it’s the correct way to be – is kept most of those emotions to myself,” Hughton tells City A.M.
“The reality is you can’t do anything about it. All you can do is learn from the experience and want to be better. And I think that when I left the club I didn’t particularly have to say too much, because an awful lot was said for me.”
His players were quick to express dismay at the ousting of Hughton, a Tottenham defender and then coach who joined the Newcastle backroom set-up in 2008 before being handed the reins after relegation a year later.
For some the episode would have left a bitter taste – Kevin Keegan, one of his predecessors, sued the club after falling out with Ashley and quitting – yet Hughton still recalls his time at St James’ Park fondly.
“There’s no doubt it’s a club I didn’t want to leave; I enjoyed a very good period there. But I’m also realistic: there were some difficult times there too,” says the Stratford-born 52-year-old. “I think those experiences improved me as a coach and a manager. It was a wonderful task for me to bring the team back up again and do well enough in the Barclays Premier League. It’s a fantastic club and I’ve got far more good memories than bad memories.”
Far from being put off management by his first permanent role, the softly-spoken Hughton is itching to start his next project. He had talks with West Brom before they plumped for Roy Hodgson in February, is hoping more doors will open in the summer, and is willing to take charge in the Championship again if a top flight outfit does not come calling.
“I’m very open. For me what’s important is to get back in. I know how many good managers are out of work and how difficult jobs are to come by,” he adds. “I very much enjoyed the experience and the job that I did and of course you miss it, so I’m looking to get back in as quickly as possible.”
Hughton is one of the very few black players to make the step into management – only one, Charlton’s Chris Powell, is currently employed in the entire professional game. But while acknowledging the unacceptable statistic, he does not believe his race will hinder his job prospects.
“I don’t think it’s an issue,” he says. “It’s disappointing there aren’t more black managers at any level and I know this is something that’s being addressed. But I feel my long period as a coach put me in very good stead for management. I enjoyed Newcastle and think most people would look at that as opposed to anything else.”
Hughton, who left Spurs in 2007, knows more than most about life at White Hart Lane and believes Harry Redknapp has since taken the north Londoners to new heights.
“This is the best Spurs squad that I can remember,” he says. “Any accolades Harry has got regarding one day being England manager are solely down to the job he’s done at Tottenham.”
While Redknapp ponders his next career move, Hughton does so too, in his own modest manner. He won’t shout about it, but must have done enough to earn another shot at the Premier League soon.
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 visit www.barclaysticketoffice.com
THREE BACKROOM STAFF WHO REVELLED IN STEP UP TO TOP JOB...
Jose Mourinho First hired as a translator, he worked his way up to a big break at Benfica. Has since won major trophies with Porto, Chelsea, and Inter Milan. Now at Real Madrid
Steve McClaren No2 to Sir Alex Ferguson when Man Utd won the treble, he won League Cup and got to Uefa Cup final as Middlesbrough boss, earning him an ill-fated England stint
Nigel Adkins Physio Adkins took charge at Scunthorpe when Brian Laws left. He took them up, then down, then up again, and moved on to the more high-profile Southampton
...AND THREE COACHES WHO FLOPPED IN MANAGEMENT
Brian Kidd Sir Alex’s No2 during the 90s, Kidd was given the chance to step up at Blackburn but led them to relegation and hasn’t managed ever again
Sammy Lee Former Liverpool player and coach Lee was No2 to Sam Allardyce at Bolton and replaced him when he left but was sacked after just one win in 11 games
Chris Hutchings Twice he took over when his old boss Paul Jewell left, first at Bradford and then Wigan; twice he was sacked after just 12 miserable matches