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Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Ashley outdoes himself by firing Hughton


LONDON — "Chris will remain our manager. It is our intention to renegotiate his contract at the end of the year.''

Christopher Davies

— Newcastle statement, Oct. 27. Hughton fired — Dec. 6.

If Mike Ashley had sat down and tried to come up with a worse way to alienate Newcastle fans, the club's owner could not have done better than sacking Chris Hughton. Mind you Ashley should not be underestimated, because he topped that by appointing Alan Pardew as Hughton's successor.

Stunning even by Ashley's standards.

Ashley has continually made decisions that beggar belief since assuming control three years ago. His latest double whammy had the unusual effect of uniting not only the Toon Army, but fans of all clubs against him. It actually takes some doing, that.

His preferred option as manager is Alan Pardew, yes, the Alan Pardew sacked by West Ham, Charlton and Southampton.

Ashley wanted "a more experienced manager" and Pardew fits that criterion, but of his 528 matches at Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton, only 74 have been in the Premier League.

Hughton has been in charge of Newcastle on 23 occasions in the Premier League, either as caretaker or permanent manager, so in effect Pardew has 1 1/2 seasons more experience than his predecessor at the highest level. Make of that what you want.

Three dismissals on Pardew's resume have just about every New castle fan asking: "How on earth is this guy better than Chris Hughton?"

It may just be the least popular managerial sacking/appointment in Premier League history. Nice one, Mike.

Since Newcastle's hollow promise on Oct. 27, it has won two, drawn two and lost three games — the two victories were away to Arsenal and a 5-1 thumping of rivals Sunderland.

After Hughton guided Newcastle back to the Premier League in the first try (Alan Shearer was the interim manager who took them down), the club has had highs and lows — not unexpected from a newly promoted side — but is a respectable 12th.

Newcastle's hypocritical farewell statement spoke of Hughton's "exceptional character and commitment" — qualities not shared by all of those running Newcastle. Hughton's departure was no surprise even if the timing was.

The writing was on the wall because of Ashley's reluctance to offer his manager a new contract or make cash available for transfers. This set the alarm bells ringing as the owner has a history of calamitous decisions. If nothing else, he is consistent.

The former Republic of Ireland international may not have been one of the Premier League's more charismatic managers, but he was liked and respected by his players, the fans and the media — not an easy hat trick to achieve.

He made Newcastle a football club again, restoring credibility after Ashley had threatened to make it a 12-month pantomime.

What more did Ashley expect?

As Newcastle prepared to unveil Pardew there was a collective scratching of heads in English football, wondering why anyone would think of working for the club (at the moment).

An attractive proposition?

Yes, if you are out of work, which of course Pardew was.

He admitted, "I've had texts from managers saying I must be mad going there," said Pardew. "But it's one of the top five clubs in the country. It's a daunting prospect, but something I couldn't turn down."

Ashley started pressing the self-destruct button by sacking Sam Allardyce, who is proving again with Blackburn that he is one of the most reliable managers around. His departure cost Newcastle around £2 million in compensation.

To the delight of the Toon Army, Ashley persuaded the Messiah, Kevin Keegan, to return but Special K walked out citing job interference and, like Allardyce, collected £2 million in compensation.

Next through the revolving door on the manager's office was Joe Kinnear, his time at St. James' Park memorable mainly for using 52 swear words in a five-minute tirade at a reporter.

Hughton had alternated between coach and caretaker manager, and was an assistant when Shearer — Messiah II — was hired in what proved to be a failed attempt to keep Newcastle in the Premier League.

Under Hughton, the Magpies won promotion in record-making style last season, but Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias seemed to think that was not a particularly exceptional achievement, forgetting that with the club in turmoil — the owner was trying and failing to sell it — many had tipped Newcastle for relegation to League One.

How popular an appointment is Pardew?

The Newcastle Chronicle organized a poll and of just over 1,000 replies only 14 — one percent — voted for Pardew, whose biggest problem will be winning the respect of the players.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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