Premier League Clubs Managed: Newcastle United (2010), Norwich City (2012-2014), Brighton & Hove Albion (2017-PRESENT)
Chris Hughton has had to work incredibly hard to make his mark in Premier League management. Having tasted the big time previously with Newcastle United and Norwich City, he has done fantastically well to not only guide Brighton & Hove Albion into the Premier League but to keep them closer to mid-table during their first campaign at this level.
Hughton has often gone under the radar but his loyalty towards players, simple tactics and resistance to make dozens of changes in rotation every week seem to be a key to his success. He got his chance after many years working as a coach for many managers at Tottenham Hotspur.
He made a mark in his playing days too. In 1979, he became the first mixed race player to represent the Republic of Ireland national team. The duration of his playing days were going to be with Tottenham and in fact, his whole career kicking footballs for a living were in the capital.
Cup success with Spurs
Hughton came through the youth system at Tottenham Hotspur and made his debut for the club in the 1979 League Cup against Manchester United. He made the left-back position his own during 13 years at White Hart Lane and is often considered by Spurs’ fans as one of their finest full-backs.
Although league championships would elude him, Chris would enjoy cup success with Spurs, triumphing in the FA Cup in both 1981 and 1982, plus the UEFA Cup in 1984. He nearly won the FA Cup three times but was on the losing side in 1987 when Tottenham lost 3-2 to Coventry City.
In all competitions, he played just two games short of 400 and scored 19 goals. In November 1990, he moved to West Ham United on a free transfer as cover for the injured Julian Dicks. He spent two seasons at ‘The Academy of Football’ before winding down his playing days with Brentford. Hughton hung up his boots at the end of the 1992-1993 season, aged 34.
For the Republic of Ireland, he won 53 caps between 1979 and 1991, starting all three group games of their first major tournament, the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. Hughton also went to the World Cup in 1990 but didn’t figure in the historic Irish run to the quarter-finals. By that stage, he was the back-up defender to Steve Staunton.
Learning the ropes
Just five months after his playing retirement, Chris was back in the game in a coaching capacity. Appointed by Ossie Ardiles in October 1993 to join his backroom team at Tottenham, Hughton remained with the club for 14 years and worked under seven permanent Premier League managers, including Gerry Francis, George Graham and Glenn Hoddle.
He looked after the Under-21 and reserve teams before becoming more of a prominent first-team coach in 2001. He left the club alongside Martin Jol following the latter’s sacking after a UEFA Cup loss at home to Getafe in 2007.
In February 2008, he joined up with Newcastle United as a first-team coach, working primarily as a defensive coach. In his first match on the touchline alongside Kevin Keegan, his new club beat his old side 4-1.
When Keegan quit in September 2008, Hughton experienced some caretaker work with Newcastle alongside the appointments of Joe Kinnear as a permanent manager and Alan Shearer’s brief interim role at the end of the campaign.
With Newcastle down in the Championship following relegation from the Premier League in 2009, Hughton was appointed caretaker for a third time as owner Mike Ashley had put the club up for sale. Once the Magpies had made an excellent start to the season and Hughton won the first two Manager of the Month awards, he was reluctantly given the permanent role as Newcastle manager.
Ashley might never have been convinced but Hughton won over the home faithful which sometimes is difficult to do. They lost just four times in 46 games, winning promotion in record time and going through the campaign unbeaten at St James’ Park.
Utmost highs and crushing lows
Hughton brought Sol Campbell and Dan Gosling into the club on free transfers for Newcastle’s return to the Premier League in 2010 but the only arrival for a cash deal was Nottingham Forest full-back James Perch which suggested again that the owner was not totally happy with the manager he had in-charge.
If Ashley was looking for an excuse to sack Hughton, he had to bide his time. Newcastle had some utmost highs in their early weeks back in the top-flight. They included shock away wins at Everton and Arsenal, plus a 5-1 Tyne & Wear Derby humbling of Sunderland.
Around this time, rumblings had emerged that Hughton was being threatened with the sack with the club reluctant to give him a new contract. After a 3-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion in early December, he became the first manager in the 2010-2011 Premier League season to lose his job, despite the club sitting 11th in the table. The sacking was badly received by many Newcastle fans and the players who were desperate for Chris to keep his job.
Returning to top-flight level in Norfolk
Hughton returned to management in June 2011, taking the vacant position at relegated Birmingham City. As they’d won the League Cup in the previous season, he got the opportunity to manage in Europe and earned 10 points in the UEFA Europa League group stage although they were eliminated at this stage.
They reached the fifth round of the FA Cup before bowing out to eventual winners Chelsea and guided the Blues to a fourth-place finish in the Championship. Disappointment would follow in the play-offs with defeat in the semi-finals to Blackpool over two legs.
However, Chris had proved his Newcastle stint wasn’t a fluke and Norwich City showed considerable interest once it became clear they were going to lose their manager, Paul Lambert to Aston Villa.
He took over at Carrow Road in June 2012 and steered Norwich to famous home victories over Arsenal and eventual champions Manchester United, plus a 3-2 away win on the final day at Manchester City. There was also a 10-game undefeated run which took the Canaries as high as seventh in the table just before Christmas. Although there was a tricky run in the Spring, Norwich finished a respectable 11th in the final standings, a place higher than the previous campaign under Lambert.
Plenty of money was spent that summer to improve the squad with the likes of Leroy Fer, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Nathan Redmond arriving in the summer of 2013. Results didn’t come though consistently enough and there were few high points. A 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in February 2014 was the main highlight. However, the fans had lost confidence in their manager and so had the board. Despite being five points clear of the drop zone in early April, Norwich elected to part company with Chris by mutual consent. Academy boss Neil Adams took over and the club ultimately were relegated due to a difficult fixture run-in which included defeats to Liverpool FC, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Rebuilding at Brighton
The 2013-2014 season was probably the first campaign where he’d underachieved as a manager but Hughton would be back before the year was out, succeeding Sami Hyypia as Brighton & Hove Albion boss.
Brighton were struggling near the foot of the Championship table but he managed to stabilise the Seagulls, keeping them in the second tier, then taking them to the play-offs in 2015-2016 and automatic promotion last season.
Home wins against West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United and Watford have shown Brighton are tough to beat at home in their debut Premier League campaign and they concluded the 2017 Christmas and New Year period in a positive 12th place – far beyond their expectations.
As a manager, Hughton has said previously: “As a manager, I’ve got to make sure they have the correct training sessions. That they are disciplined and that creates a good environment.”
He gets about his work quietly but impressively too and bigger jobs are likely to come his way in the future.