BIG JACK’S LEGACY IS STILL WITH HUGHTON

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - By Chris Dunlavy

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.

At­ten­tion

“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.

Em­brace

“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.”

De­cency

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

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