Hughtons Contract: Why Now?!
So Hughton`s contract situation is hitting the headlines, a month after speculation arose on the TOTT message boards that his contract was being allowed to run down.
Why should Hughton get his contract now?
A football manager`s life is a rocky road. For many, he is only good as his last result. For a Newcastle United manager, they don`t come much better than a 5 goal romp against the Mackems. It will not be forgotten that the Sunderland match has sounded the death knell for careers. Gullit famously left after dropping Newcastle`s icon in a 2-1 defeat. Jim Smith was on borrowed time after losing in the play offs back in 1990.
It would be easy for the senior management team at NUFC to stall. There could of course be reservations about Hughton`s previous spells in charge, albeit in a caretaker role. The circumstances that Hughton inherited were by no means the easiest.
The last careteaker spell was after Kinnear suffered heart problems. The first was when the Newcastle legend, Kevin Keegan walked under controversial circumstances. Therein lies a lesson for the Newcastle hierarchy. What happens when a manager, popular among players and supporters leaves a motivated squad.The media will always focus on what is going wrong rather than what is going well. It is the nature of the beast. 4 home games without a win is a potential crisis.
The fact is that those matches, one with a weaker Carling Cup side, have already been matched by 2 away wins, at Everton and one of Hughton`s former clubs, West Ham.
Looking at what has gone right is not a popular idea in media circles. Hughton was still only caretaker when last season began. He had already lost a number of seasoned professionals. It will not be forgotten that the players lost included Owen, Martins, Viduka, Duff, Bassong, Beye and Cacapa. Despite that, Hughton made some shrewd loan signings to become the first Newcastle manager to gain promotion at the first attempt, with a significant transfer surplus as well.
The four post war promotions have all been under legendary managers. First there was Joe Harvey. Arthur Cox was the next, with Keegan as a player and later the manager to gain the previous promotion to Hughton`s.
The Cox situation will be remembered by supporters, but probably not by senior management at the club. Cox left after promotion had been secured, the board failing to back him with a new contract. What followed was Newcastle`s shortest spell in the top flight. It isn`t just history that suggests Hughton should be supported. The display against Sunderland was against a team with, on paper, a more expensive and more talented squad. They key to success was character and stability, particularly with a defence that have come to know each other well.
There are challenges ahead. Key among these is the contract situation for players. It is well documented that Steve Taylor is in his last year. Next summer sees more players enter their last contracted year, if nothing is done in the meantime. They include Smith, Lovenkrands, Harper, Enrique, Guthrie, Barton and Ameobi, among a clutch of promising youngsters.
Why should players stay loyal to the club, if the club can not be loyal to a manager with results?
It is not just the medium term but the short term that is important. The stated aim for this season is survival. To renew the contract now gives certainty. To delay for more than a week or two leads into a challenging run of fixtures, away at Bolton West Brom, Birmingham and Spurs, with Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City. Surely the squad will perform better from a solid platform rather than an insecure one.
Potential replacements for Hughton fall into three broad categories. There are the out of work former Premier League managers, but few of the likes of Souness, Dalglish, Pardew, Curbishley, Coppell and even O`Neill seem to offer much more than Hughton. Overseas managers may need time to adapt to the league, while managers unproven at the top level are, by definition, unproven.
In the meantime, Hughton is relatively cheap to dispose of. At the same time, the compensation that the club can demand is negligible, should another suitor for his services come along.
West Ham are perilously placed, with Avram Grant the manager who finished last season`s Premier League in bottom place. Hughton has spent much of his life in London and played for the Hammers at the end of his career. Other Championship clubs seeking promotion or survival will be aware of his record.
Taking into account achievement, history, player contracts and the importance of the next 10 games, the arguments are compelling. Hughton should be given his contract and his own assistant now, if only to ensure that he is not poached.
Even if the reservations are worth considering, last season`s immediate promotion generated up to £50m of income for the club. If he fails, even a Keeganesque pay off of £2m is small change out of what he has made for the club.
If you are reading, Ashley and Llambias, please act now.