The Premier League’s unlikely lads making the switch to number ones

Little wonder Norwich City and West Brom have defied expectations during the first half of this Premier League season. Both clubs have been rewarded for placing their faith in managers brave enough to move out of the shadows to top the bill.

Chris Hughton and Steve Clarke are forging reputations in their own right after graduating from hugely successful coaching careers. Hughton was part of Martin Jol's backroom team that helped Tottenham seal two top five Premier League finishes and won the League Cup before leaving for a similar role at Newcastle.

Clarke was Jose Mourinho's trusted aide during an era of domestic dominance for Chelsea prior to stints at West Ham and more recently a sour episode at Liverpool.

Both subsequently opted to cross the managerial divide, but in Hughton's case the path to the Carrow Road dugout was never the seamless transition his impressive body of work at Newcastle and now Norwich would suggest.

'Not necessarily. For me the important thing was always to do the best job that I could in the role I was in,' he said. 'My circumstances were perhaps a little different because all of my roles were pretty much with the same club. For me it was very much about, from a club point of view, them feeling they desperately wanted that continuity and I was the person they felt could give them that. I think I worked under eight different managers (at Spurs).

'It wasn't always the be all and end all, it was about doing a good job, having a good standing in the game, improving my coaching capacities and coaching knowledge. But ultimately yes, I did want to manage. I think it's a difficult transition because it's a very difficult job, but I certainly feel that I have benefited absolutely from what I would regard as the long apprenticeship that I had – and I very much see that in Steve.'

Hughton embraces the obvious parallels with Clarke's instant success at the Hawthorns that sees today's protagonists vying for the title of surprise packages over the opening months of the Premier League season.

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'He has had a fantastic start. I don't think you could have asked any more than what he has achieved,' said Hughton. 'I know Steve and he is very much similar to myself, a coach for a number of years who would have gained great experience in his periods of time – at Liverpool lastly, then West Ham and more so probably at Chelsea.

'He would have been in there right amongst it at the deep end with some very, very good football people and managers around him so I am quite sure that he has benefited from that.

'Steve has been very involved in the first team and first-team decisions, certainly in his period of time at Chelsea, working under the managers he did and of course working that close to Mourinho, with (Kenny) Dalglish at Liverpool. I don't think he has been a coach that has been in the background, so he would have had a good apprenticeship over that period of time.'

Clarke's arrival in the Midlands to replace England-bound Roy Hodgson will have owed much to the efforts of Albion's Norfolk-bred director of football Dan Ashworth.

Hughton is well aware of the soaring reputation that has seen Ashworth now head-hunted by the FA after helping establish a framework for prolonged success in the Midlands that remains unique at the elite end of the English game.

'That structure is working, very much so, and I've known Dan over the years and our club knows him quite well as well,' said Hughton. 'He has done a magnificent job and yes, for them I think you can only speak on what you see and what you find. For them, it has been a very good model and instrumental in the scouting network for players who have come through and the managers they have brought in during that period.'

Hughton and Clarke are part of a growing breed of managers who have stepped out of backroom teams, alongside the likes of Chelsea's European Cup winner Roberto di Matteo and Barcelona's Tito Vilanova. The City chief believes Norwich and West Brom are reaping the benefits.

'I think it's not a bad way to do it,' said the City boss. 'I understand why certain managers will go straight from playing into a managerial career because sometimes the opportunity arises.

'Sometimes for that individual it is the right thing and you always speak in the game about some players that you know are going to make good managers or you feel will make good managers, and when an opportunity arises they don't really want to turn them down. But certainly I think if you are able to have that apprenticeship as such, if you are able to have that period of time where you are working with the first team, working very much around the big decisions that have to be made, it can only benefit you.'

Norwich's 10-match unbeaten Premier League run ahead of today's trip to the Midlands contrasts sharply with Albion's stuttering form which has seen them lose three of their past six league games. Hughton cautions the clubs' conflicting recent trends only serves to illustrate the fine margins of top flight cut and thrust.

'It is normal. That is a testament to this division,' he said. 'They are a very good team who have built steadily over the past few years. They have an excellent squad. It is very difficult to sustain that momentum right through the course of an entire season and they are no different to the rest.

'You are going to have highs and lows and after a wonderful start they have dipped a little bit in terms of results but they have a lot of quality and a manager who has started his career very well.

'The dip they are in is because it is impossible, if you are a club like West Brom, to sustain top form all season. We are the same. The run we are on at the moment is a very difficult achievement in this division.'

Norwich won league and cup battles at the Hawthorns last season, but Hughton draws little fresh inspiration from that positive record.

'No, I think you possibly could use any psychological advantage to your own benefit but ultimately there will probably be quite a few players who didn't play in that game that will play from both teams,' he said. 'It's also about form going into a game, what injuries you have. So sometimes you can use that psychologically to try to gain some little advantage, the little bits that you do, but generally it's about the here and now as opposed to last season.'