Send in the clowns
December 8, 2010 § 1 Comment
It was all going so well. For once, the Premier League looked like it was adopting a sensible approach to the lifespan of the manager. No kneejerk dismissals. No gardening leave. No sign of Joe Kinnear.
True, Avram Grant is looking pretty doomed at Upton Park, and certainly the paymasters of Roberto Martinez and Mark Hughes would like to be a touch higher in the table. And Roy Hodgson is generally felt to be out of his depth by those Liverpool fans who have failed to notice that they’re not really equipped for the deep end just at the moment. But the boardrooms, in general, seemed to playing a slightly longer game, perhaps finally realising that changing manager is rarely the revivifying elixir it’s meant to be.
Which is one reason that Mike Ashley’s abrupt dismissal of Chris Hughton came as something of a shock. The other reason, of course, is that it was a mind-numbingly stupid act from a colossally stupid man. And in that sense, of course, it shouldn’t be any shock at all.
A mini-open letter: Dear Mr Ashley. Your club has just been promoted. At the end of the season, 17th in the table will be a success. The traditional target is 40 points, though over the last seven seasons the 17th placed team has been safe with fewer. Currently, you have 19 points from 16 games, which over the season averages out to 45 points: last season, that would have seen you finish 13th. Above Sunderland. You’re on course to overachieve, and to overachieve considerably. This is a very poor time to sack your manager.
Ashley has let it be known that there will be no public explanation, which is pretty shabby conduct from a cowardly man who, it’s pretty clear, has little time or respect for those people whose hard-earned keeps the club going. But Ashley has been happy to leak some reasons to the local press; reasons that are, for want of a better word, utter cack.
Let’s leave aside the wrongheaded concerns over the team’s form (as noted above, you’re doing better than any fan of any newly-promoted club could hope for) and the palpably nonsensical suggestion that you didn’t appoint the Shearer-Dowie dream team soon enough. (Mmm. That’s why you went down. Not enough Shearer.) Let’s look at the criticisms of Hughton in the transfer market; specifically, the contrasts between the acquisitions of Leon Best and James Perch, and those of Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheick Tioté.
Best and Perch have been rubbish. Tioté’s been outstanding, and Ben Arfa sparkled briefly before being brutally Nigel-ed (much, much worse than being Nigella-ed). Hughton, so the story goes, was personally involved in the transfers of the first pair, but not the second, responsibility for which lay with the scounting team. A rather crude caricature emerges of a man who is incompetent in the transfer market and so, for that reason, had to go. A coach, not a manager.
But why does this matter? To look at the club holistically, there was a chief scout — Graham Carr — with an eye for a purchase, and there was a coach — Hughton — capable of working with players that he hadn’t personally bought. Good players being purchased, and then being coached to play well? You can see why things just couldn’t go on.
Much has been made of Hughton’s careful management of what should be, on paper, the most combustible dressing room in the League not containing Mario Balotelli. And this is the crucial point. Hughton bought almost none of the players he managed, yet he managed them well. The incoming manager — Alan Pardew, Martin Jol, Marcelo Bielsa, whoever — could be the greatest transfer market genius in the world, yet by and large he’s going to be sending out the same players that Hughton did. It’s not as though the new man is going to be given time and money to build a new side.
Breaking up a functional management team is not the action of a man whose primary motivations are the betterment of his club. Rather, they’re the actions of a man who, so rumour has it, was piqued at the adulation Hughton received after the Sunderland game. Who was upset that his own tactical contributions weren’t heeded. Who prefers to make appointments on the basis of quick chats in casinos. Who, in the final reckoning, is neither a fit nor proper person. Fuck off back to your shoe shops, you graceless prick, and leave the Geordies alone.