16 May 2019
There was a lot of noise following the dismissal of Chris Hughton on Monday.
‘Disrespectful’ and ‘unfair’ were two of the more generous adjectives used by pundits and across media outlets after the now ex-Brighton manager steered the club to safety.
The threat of relegation was clear and present just a few weeks ago and the decision was probably made even before the Seagulls were beaten 2-0 by relegation rivals Cardiff on April 16. Three days prior to that they were thumped 5-0 at home by Bournemouth with the players seeming bereft of confidence and, more importantly, lacking leadership both on and off the pitch.
But when you claw your way through the fug of faux outrage, most of the complaints were based on Hughton’s decency as a human being rather than his managerial excellence. The 60-year-old certainly appears to fall into the ‘good guy’ category but the question for Brighton fans, and the club’s board, was whether he was the right person to take them forward.
Many who have seen the Seagulls regularly this year have questioned whether the style of play was getting the best out of the players at the club, with Hughton stubbornly refusing to change what many saw as ‘negative’ tactics.
A look at their form since Christmas would appear to vindicate the sacking decision with two wins from 17 league games, and no wins in their last nine. Rather than fighting to stay up they relied on Cardiff losing their two crucial games – away at already-relegated Fulham and home to Crystal Palace.
In truth Brighton were lucky to avoid the drop, but Hughton will not be the only high-profile manager on the move this summer.
One who won’t be is Neil Warnock. Cardiff, perhaps unsurprisingly, have confirmed they will retain his services for their return to the Championship, and to get the club to within two points of safety should be seen as an achievement in itself.
But topping the list of likely departures, and whisper this in the company of any Newcastle United fan, is Rafa Benitez.
Most in football recognise the excellent work Benitez has done on Tyneside, hamstrung by a budget that would embarrass the likes of Huddersfield and Cardiff – and no, the Magpies’ fans are unlikely to thank owner Mike Ashley for his efforts no matter what Rio Ferdinand thinks.
His status as a manager has no doubt increased, showing he can work his magic not just with the biggest stars of world football but also with those whose skills are more Championship than Premier League.
As with Hughton the ‘good guy’ moniker applies to Benitez but the two men, who have both experienced spells in charge under Ashley on Tyneside, are no fools.
Hughton would have no doubt expected the worst despite avoiding the drop and Benitez will not be pinning his hopes on Ashley suddenly changing his ways.
The Newcastle United owner’s business empire has endured a difficult few months including a massive loss when Debenhams went into administration.
The likelihood that he will now invest heavily in his football interests looks remote and Benitez has repeatedly stated he will wait to see what Ashley has to say before deciding whether to discuss extending his stay on Tyneside which officially ends on June 30.
If, as is likely, he is told he must create his own revenue, sell to buy, and so endure another season on the Premier League breadline, he is very likely to say ‘thank you and goodbye’.
There will be few who would blame him for making a swift exit and if he walks without anything lined up it will still be a surprise if he is not employed by a top club in one of Europe’s elite leagues by the start of next season.
The talks between Ashley and Benitez are expected to take place this week so in theory Newcastle United could be looking for a new manager within the next 72 hours.
There is one man who retains the respect of a large percentage of the footballing public on Tyneside and whose appointment could turn out to be a PR coup.
What price on a return to Newcastle United for Chris Hughton?