Managing Newcastle is crazy, as Chris Hughton is now finding out

Most of my working life has been spent in the passionate football hotbeds of Liverpool and Glasgow. But for crazy, intense, obsessive and undiluted devotion to just one club in the whole city, there is nothing to compare with Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

In 1998, as Newcastle United manager, I took them to the FA Cup final, made a couple of important signings (Didi Hamann, Nobby Solano) in the summer and started the following season with a couple of draws. Then I was sacked — still unbeaten!

Was I surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is no. Because in Newcastle-upon-Tyne you have to expect the unexpected and the gossip, rumour mill and speculation run just as feverishly when times are good as when they are bad.

Plenty has happened since 1998. Even the owners at Newcastle United are different. The Hall family and Freddy Shepherd have gone, Mike Ashley is in.

Way back when: Sir John Hall (left) and Kenny Dalglish share the limelight at St James' Park

Way back when: Sir John Hall (left) and Kenny Dalglish share the limelight at St James' Park

But some things never seem to change so while it would be extraordinary for a manager anywhere else to be under pressure for winning promotion and going straight into the top half of the Premier League, normal rules don’t apply at St James’ Park, as Chris Hughton is finding out ahead of the famous Tyne-Wear derby today.

I have to stress at this point that I absolutely loved my time at Newcastle. If any manager or coach was offered the chance to work there, I’d say in a flash: ‘Take It’. The excitement and atmosphere around the place is unique.

Of course, Celtic and Liverpool fans are just as passionate about their team as Newcastle’s supporters — that goes for Rangers and Everton, too, by the way — but the bond between city and club is special at St James’ Park because it is the only club in town.

The stadium is only a few minutes’ walk from the main shopping streets and even in the height of summer with no football match to look forward to, everyone still walks around in the black-and-white stripes, proud to be associated with their team.

The irony, of course, is that this constant microscope probably works against the club in many ways. Kevin Keegan felt the pressure when his great team of David Ginola and Les Ferdinand came close to winning the title in 1995-96 (he resigned the following season), so what chance did any other manager have?

Dignity: Chris Hughton has gone about his business at Newcastle in admirable fashion

Dignity: Chris Hughton has gone about his business at Newcastle in admirable fashion

For all this wonderful support, the flip-side is the machinations behind the scenes and in the city, which always seem to lead to Newcastle shooting themselves in the foot when things are going well. From what I’ve been hearing about Chris Hughton and his future, history might be about to repeat itself.

Chris stepped in at the worst time in the club’s recent history, relegated from the Premier League with everyone predicting the Toon were about to ‘do a Leeds United’ and plunge even further.

It seemed unlikely that two Argentinian internationals, Fabio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, would fancy the slog of a 46-game season in the Championship. Kevin Nolan’s desire was questioned and as for Joey Barton, it seemed if he wasn’t injured, he was getting into trouble.

Somehow, the quiet dignity of Hughton suited what this brashest of clubs needed at the time. Coloccini, Gutierrez and Nolan were magnificent last season. So were Andy Carroll, goalkeeper Steve Harper and many others as Newcastle won the division by a street. Barton has flourished this season in the top flight, showing the form that once won him England recognition.

Renaissance man: Joey Barton is beginning to prove the doubters wrong after a string of fine performances

Renaissance man: Joey Barton (right) is beginning to prove the doubters wrong after a string of fine performances

At any other club, Hughton would be given a big pay hike, the stability of a long-term contract and maybe a quid or two to spend on new players to help Newcastle preserve their status in the Premier League.

None of that seems to have happened at the moment and Chris has even lost his No2, Colin Calderwood, to Hibs. Now, if Calderwood harboured an ambition to try management again, that’s unavoidable, but if it was because Newcastle couldn’t match the SPL club’s wages, that’s a worrying sign.

Likewise, I don’t know Hughton’s salary but I can’t imagine it competes with other top-flight managers. By stalling on giving him a new deal, the Newcastle hierarchy have invited speculation about his future, even if that wasn’t their intention.

The remarkable thing is that it hasn’t impacted on the team. The new-boys have put six past Aston Villa, won at Everton and were unlucky at Manchester City. It’s incredible to think what they could achieve given stability off the field.

But that’s not really the way it happens at Newcastle. Personally, I can’t think of any manager they could appoint who would deliver better value for money than Hughton, whose operations on a relative shoestring have been extremely impressive.

That would count for a lot at 91 of the 92 League clubs. But Newcastle is different, for better or worse.




I wrote last week that Wayne Rooney was motivated by ambition as much as money — and judging by your emails and reaction online, I didn’t convince everyone.

Point to prove: Paul Ince

Point to prove: Paul Ince

Football folk, it seems, are all tarred by some with the same brush. So how do you explain Paul Ince becoming the manager of League One Notts County?

Does anyone think the former England captain, who earned lucrative moves to Manchester United, Inter Milan and Liverpool, needed to work in management to boost his coffers?

Not at all. Ince is back in football because he wants to prove himself, to show that after Macclesfield, Blackburn and two spells at MK Dons, he can be the Guv’nor in the dug-out, having proved himself on the pitch.

Fewer former top players are trying their hand at management and maybe some think: “Do I need the hassle?”

But Roy Keane is a wealthy man and has moved his family down to Ipswich because he wants to stay in the game, even if his players aren’t as good as the ones he played with at Manchester United.

Ince won’t succeed by showing off his medals. He’ll have to sign good players, impart his knowledge well and have luck along the way — just as if he’d got the job after a career in park football.

And he won’t be getting £200k a week for his troubles.


The Champions League group stages aren’t always exciting but Spurs v Inter Milan, featuring two of my managerial friends, should be a grand exception.

Not many English managers get a crack at the biggest club competition so it’s great for Harry Redknapp to fly the flag.

Inter-esting: Gareth Bale strikes at the San Siro to set up a cracker at home

Inter-esting: Gareth Bale strikes at the San Siro to set up a cracker at home

He faces a master of European football, Rafa Benitez, whose unhappy final season at Liverpool should not overshadow the great times he brought them.

It’s a contrast of styles on the pitch and in the dug-out — and one game I wouldn’t want to miss.

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