If ever a story sums up the utter madness of modern football it is the announcement, 24 hours after he and his children enjoyed a lap of honour at the Amex to celebrate staying in the Premier League, that Chris Hughton has been sacked by Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Republic legend had earned a reputation on England’s south coast as one of the most reliable and yet under-rated coaches in the top flight, not only guiding Brighton to the Premier League for the first time in their history but also avoiding relegation two years in a row.
Thoughtful, likable, calm and steady are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe Hughton this season but talented, skillful and intelligent should have been added to the list for a man whose man management and tactical acumen meant that, until just recently, Brighton not only survived at the highest level but largely avoided the stress of a relegation battle.
For many people who follow Brighton week-in, week-out (not least the journalists who attend his press conferences) the decision by club chairman Tony Bloom to sack him seems almost inconceivable. It goes against what we all thought we knew about the very ethos of the club and the way it treated people.
Just listen to the way Bloom described his manager last August, having just handed him a new three-year contract.
“It has to be the easiest deal I’ve ever done,” he said.
Professional gambler Bloom, having invested almost €350m into the club, has every right to change his mind and to make big and difficult decisions to protect the future of his club, but an awful lot of people on England’s south coast are struggling to understand his latest one, said by many to be his biggest gamble yet.
It appears to be based, largely, on the difficult end to the campaign for Brighton which saw them drop into the relegation battle, struggle to score goals and receive criticism for adopting negative tactics.
The irony, however, is that Hughton was able to manage his team through that period to keep them up, to earn a draw against Arsenal at the Emirates and to give champions Manchester City a shock on the final day of the season when his more attacking line-up went 1-0 up. In short, he did everything he was asked to do in the season - which is keep Brighton in the top flight - despite poor recruitment.
There’s no doubt that Brighton do need to make changes next season to keep pace with modern football. They need new players, a greater attacking threat and perhaps a tweaking of the tactics which have got them to this point, but which are starting to look dated. What Bloom seems to feel is that Hughton is not the right man to manage that period of change.
His statement said: “Chris has done an excellent job over the past four and a half years. First stabilising our club, reaching the play-offs in his first full season, securing our first-ever promotion to the Premier League, and retaining our status in two successive seasons.
“Undoubtedly, this has been one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion, but ultimately one I have made due to how we struggled in the second half of the season.
“Chris will always be very fondly remembered by Albion staff and fans as one of our club’s finest and most-respected managers."
But surely but the Brighton chairman is seriously underestimating Hughton’s credentials. Newcastle United fans will speak warmly about the football played under him when they won promotion in 2010 and Brighton weren’t always negative; they simply adopted emergency tactics to protect their Premier League status when it was vital to do so.
Someone, somewhere is going to get a very, very good manager when the dust settles and Hughton, as he surely will, begins his next role. Who knows, there may even be room for him in the Republic’s set-up because the Boys in Green would benefit greatly from his experience, tactical astuteness and man management.
Sadly, it seems he had absolutely no idea the axe was about to be wielded when he ended the season with what looked a happy and contented walk around the Amex pitch, taking the applause of the home fans.
Insiders at the club say Hughton was not expecting the announcement and not even journalists who have been covering the club for years had any inkling, either. Hughton’s last words to them were: “The team needs a good break, as does the manager.”
But he had no knowledge at that stage that his words would be prophetic.
Hughton’s dismissal is also a blow to the campaign for more black managers in English football, given that he was one of very few BAME managers in the game and possibly their greatest and most eloquent leader.
"To do this less than 24 hours after the last game is just staggering," Kick it Out’s Troy Townsend told the Telegraph.
“They must have been planning it for some time. Look at how Chris has been treated at Newcastle and Norwich and now Brighton? Being nice is his nature, but I know behind closed doors he is a different guy, he knows how to get his teams going. He has given Brighton another year of Premier League football and he gets repaid like this? Really?"
If there is any justice in football, Hughton's next role in football will be a major one which showcases his talents to the full. He deserves it.
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