BIG JACK’S LEGACY IS STILL WITH HUGHTON
JOGA Bonito. Tiki Taka. Pass and move. In the age of the aesthete, it’s hard to find anyone willing to hail the virtues of Big Jack Charlton.
This was a man who, before Ireland’s European Championship match against the Netherlands, hatched a plan to spend the entire 90 minutes wasting time.
A man whose unashamedly negative tactics at Italia ‘90 prompted FIFA to introduce the backpass rule. Someone whose idea of a forward pass was a 70yard meteor on to the head of Niall Quinn.
From Roy Keane to David O’Leary, Charlton has had no shortage of knockers. Yet, to Chris Hughton, the Brighton manager, who won the majority of his 53 caps under Charlton, the World Cup winner was a paradigm of single-minded determination.
“I know what people have said about Jack’s tactics,” says the 56-year-old. “But I have to say I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed those days.
“It was a stage in my career when I was getting older and had perhaps started to pay more attention to coaching.
“I saw Jack as a wonderful example of a manager who, irrespective of players, knew 100 per cent the way he wanted to play.
“When you look at the quality at Jack’s disposal, he had a lot of great flair players.
Liam Brady, Ray Houghton, people like that, but he didn’t let that sway him. He knew what he wanted and he got those players to adapt. It was a big lesson to me.”
It’s one that has sunk deep into Hughton’s bones. When the former full-back walked into the Amex 11 months ago, he found a side wedded to 4-3-3, honed to hog possession but, for all the fine philosophy, mired in the bottom three.
He immediately ripped up the blueprint, implementing the 4-4-1-1 system that brought him success at Newcastle, Birmingham and Norwich. Today, powered by the goals of Tomer Hemed and the twinkling toes of Solly March, the Seagulls sit joint top of the Championship, unbeaten in 17 games.
Functional rather than flash. Diligent rather than daring. In a division where the likes of Burnley and Middlesbrough can spend upwards of £5m on a single player, Hughton is proving that old values, like work ethic and discipline, can still counter a bulging wallet.
“If you don’t have the financial clout of others, you have to make up for it in different ways,” he explains. “That can be organisation. It can be spirit. It can be getting the best out of certain individuals, where others have failed.
“There has to be something, otherwise the teams that invest the most will always be on top. But, as you’ve seen in the last few years, there are lots of ways to win promotion.
“Watford and Bournemouth scored a lot of goals. But, if you look at Hull under Steve Bruce, they did it by playing an unusual system: being solid and – if I remember rightly – getting a lot of 1-0 wins.
“Burnley owed a lot to good players, especially the front two who scored a lot of goals, but they also had a tremendous spirit and work ethic. There’s a way out there for everyone. And, at the minute, our way is working.” Even in the space of our 20-minute interview, Hughton’s famed decency shines through. Despite
our prearranged slot, he asks if the timing is convenient and offers to call later. He makes sure I can hear him clearly. Later, he compliments the paper.
Little things, perhaps. But in the macho, often cut-throat environment of a Championship dressing room, it isn’t hard to imagine these small, personal gestures winning friendship and respect.
“There isn’t a manager in the game who doesn’t have to make the tough decisions,” responds Hughton when I suggest he is football’s Mr Nice Guy. “There isn’t a manager who doesn’t have to shout and scream when he wants to make a point – but everybody does it in a different way. “The fact is, football has changed. When I was playing, you didn’t rotate. Squads were small. When I made my debut, I think we only had one sub. Players played. Managers managed. It was a simpler time in many ways.
“Now, the media side is massive. Agents are always in players’ ears. Man-management has become a big thing.
“But you have to accept that. Embrace it. I’m a big believer that there’s no point harking back to the good old days and telling everybody that’s how it used to be.
“The biggest thing thing you need to remember in this game is that there isn’t much beyond the here and now. At this moment, we’ve already seen eight Championship managers lose their jobs. Focus on the now.”
Not that Hughton would rather have played now, given that the 13 years he spent at Spurs would have made him a multi-millionaire.
“No, I honestly wouldn’t,” insists Hughton, who retired in 1993. “You can think that way and I’m sure some do. But we got the best out the era we played in. I look back and value what I had.
“Players now are very scrutinised. In my day, supporters saw players earning more than them, but not to the levels they do now. That gave us more of an affinity with them. The modern-day player is in a different bracket, even though that’s not their fault.
“I also played in a great team at Spurs. Keith Burkinshaw brought in the two Argentinian players, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa. Later, we had Glenn Hoddle.
“That sort of team could only play one way, and we did it very successfully. Was it revolutionary? That’s maybe a bit strong, but it’s a brand of football that was very pleasing on the eye at a time when the game could be quite ugly. It made a big impression.”
This, then, is the Hughton way. A blend of purism and pragmatism, a bit of Big Jack and a touch of little Ossie. Decency mixed with determination. For Brighton, it could spell a first stab at the big time since 1983. Yet, having been shabbily sacked by Newcastle and dismissed by a Norwich side sliding out of the top flight, does Hughton feel he has unfinished business in the Premier League?
“No, no,” he insists. “I’ve never looked at it and thought ‘I belong in the Premier League. I see myself as a manager, full-stop. I just want to do the best job I can, wherever I am. I owe that to the people who employ me and the players who trust me. Like I said, Focus on the now.”
HERE AND NOW: Chris Hughton has no regrets that he missed out on the big pay days during his time with Spurs
RIVALS: Jack Charlton and Portugal’s Eusebio share a joke