May 25 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
If you want to know just how good a manager Norwich City now have at the helm, listen to the reception Chris Hughton will be afforded by Newcastle’s public this weekend.
Hughton will make what must surely be an emotional return to the north-east for the first time since he was relieved of his duties by the Magpies’ hierarchy in December 2010.
A decision that still baffles Hughton to this day. Nor is he alone. Newcastle were heading south at an alarming rate when he took permanent control from Alan Shearer after the Toon legend was unable to avert their descent into the Championship.
Newcastle slipped out of the Premier League burdened by a huge wage bill and a fervent support at odds with the owner. The Norwich chief was a unifying force. A port in the storm. A rallying point to such an extent Newcastle powered back to the top flight at the first attempt.
Accumulating more than 100 league points on the way and remaining unbeaten all season at the ground they used to call St James’ Park before Mike Ashley sanctioned a bizarre corporate makeover.
Hughton should have been bullet-proof. But this is Newcastle. Less a football club, more a soap opera. Just weeks after hammering Sunderland 5-1 in a Tyne/Wear home derby win, Hughton was gone, with Newcastle comfortably ensconced in mid-table as they eased their way back into Premier League life.
Now hindsight is a wonderful tool. Alan Pardew’s elevation to the post has proved to be something of an inspired appointment as he guided United into European competition last season.
Newcastle’s transfer dealings are the envy of many rival clubs with astute business enticing the likes of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Yohan Cabaye to the north-east.
But even Pardew himself acknowledged the debt he owed Hughton when he picked up his manager-of-the-year gong at the end of the previous campaign.
Without Hughton’s fire-fighting act, Newcastle could have been just another of the fallen giants who roam the Championship. Losing ground with each passing year. Cut off from the financial riches afforded to the elite.
Hughton has had a positive effect on every club he has worked out since calling time on an illustrious playing career. Alongside Martin Jol at Spurs, the duo turned Tottenham into a genuine top five outfit after decades spent flattering to deceive. Life after Newcastle took him to Birmingham.
Another perennial under-achiever weighed down with expectations and instability in the boardroom. Hughton took a transfer-embargoed club to the Championship play-offs and within one win of the knockout stages of the Europa League. A remarkable body of work given the constraints he was forced to operate in.
There are those Norwich supporters who will have feared the worst when Paul Lambert departed. You can understand the concerns given the joy ride he and his coaching staff triggered; when the sky literally felt within touching distance on a heady ascent from the lower reaches of League One.
Lambert seemingly appeared a force of nature at times. A magnetic personality who inspired fierce loyalty among a group of players who owed their elevated status to his alchemist’s touch.
It will take considerably longer than a matter of months for the transition to be complete. Hughton is not just trying to accumulate points but assimilate new players into the squad he inherited from the Scot.
Lambert and Hughton are chalk and cheese - as individuals, as characters, as managers – but both have proven methods that work.
Contrast Lambert’s urgings from the technical area with the impassive, calm way Hughton surveys the scene on a matchday. Lambert always gave the impression he was an intuitive operator; someone who viewed the management game through the eyes of a player.
Hughton is a studious manager, the product perhaps of greater experience at the coalface allied to an even temperament which combines in a cooler, more calculated approach.
He is also his own man. If you can follow in the footsteps of Shearer on Tyneside then stepping into Lambert’s shadow in Norfolk will hardly faze him. Hughton was quick to recognise and embrace Lambert’s successes when he was unveiled during the summer. But he also displays a rock solid inner belief in his own ability.
Norwich’s displays during the opening month of the new Premier League season serve to illustrate the difference. Lambert’s vintage were more expansive, less secure at the back. Hughton openly admitted he got it wrong at Fulham, but the response since tells you everything.
After the ‘gung ho’ nature of Lambert’s reign built on an attacking philosophy and fearless gambler’s instinct, Hughton’s more circumspect, more measured outlook may take time to distil itself among players and supporters. But it works.
Just ask those Newcastle fans who will hail him as a returning hero this coming Sunday.
In the second of a three-part series dissecting the Canaries’ successful battle to retain their Premier League status, Norwich City writer Paddy Davitt examines the relationship between the artists and the artisans in Norwich’s midfield.