Hughton flying high with Magpies
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
When Chris Hughton joined my coaching staff at Newcastle in February 2008, I did not envisage then that he would one day be managing the club. But he has done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances and his presence ensures that Newcastle are in safe hands.
If the club had been blessed with money in the summer of 2009 and been more ambitious, Chris would be the first to say that he probably wouldn't have been asked to take charge of the club on a permanent basis at the start of their Championship campaign. However, he has undoubtedly proved a fantastic appointment and all credit must go to him for leading Newcastle to the title and promotion last season.
Chris has previous experience as a caretaker-boss at Newcastle and Tottenham so he knows what it takes to be a manager. He is not a young kid who has had the position thrust upon him; he has been in the coaching game for a long time and his success at Newcastle ensures he will be an inspiration for all those who think, "I can coach, but I can't manage." You never know what qualities you possess until you are really put to the test. Chris has passed the tests put to him so far, and perhaps discovered attributes that even he didn't know he had.
Newcastle fans have certainly warmed to him because he has been there when they needed him, and that is very, very important - they will respect him totally for his commitment and dedication. Football means so much to the people there and Chris will be looked on as a man who has done a magnificent job for them under really, really difficult circumstances. Most fans I speak to are delighted with the job he is doing.
Newcastle should be content with their tally of seven points from six games so far this season; particularly given they have had to travel to both Manchester United and Everton. Their victory at Goodison Park witnessed a wonderful strike from Hatem Ben Arfa, and some have drawn comparisons between the loan signing from Marseille and David Ginola - another French flair player who I signed for Newcastle in 1995. Ginola was adored by Newcastle supporters and it is a bit too early to say whether Ben Arfa will enjoy the same elevated status. If you look at his history, he has shown that he could be a world-class player, but off-the-field issues have interspersed his career and Marseille have allowed him to go on loan, which can set alarm bells ringing. However, it could be that a move to Newcastle is what Ben Arfa needs to rejuvenate his career.
If he can demonstrate his ability on a regular basis, then the supporters will take to him up there. Newcastle's history is littered with entertainers. They famously signed the first Brazilian to play in the Football League when Mirandinha arrived in 1987, and have seen technically excellent players such as Chris Waddle and Faustino Asprilla thrill crowds down the years. Those dedicated Newcastle fans have always appreciated a unique player who can do something a bit different.
Given the club's rich history of attacking talent, it is no surprise that they also appreciate the work of a No. 9. Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer have worn the famous shirt over the years and now that honour falls to Andy Carroll. I gave Andy his first Premier League start in May 2008 and I must say, he is probably in the top three headers of a ball I have ever seen in football.
|“||He is probably in the top three headers of a ball I have ever seen in football ”|
|Keegan on Carroll|
Defenders do not like playing against a player in his mould because he will knock them about a bit and is an old-fashioned centre forward. He is not Alan Shearer yet, and he may never be, but if he maintains his prolific form and continues in a confident vein, it would be unwise to put limits on his potential. Playing Manchester City away at the weekend is the perfect scenario to judge his ability.
Of course, Sunday's game is very much a case of divided loyalties for me. I played for Newcastle and managed them twice, albeit for a short spell the second time, and also managed Manchester City, leading both sides to promotion and enjoying success in the Premier League. When two clubs that are special to you come together, you just want to see a good game.
Due to the huge financial resources available to Manchester City, it is now an incredibly different club to the one I managed, but there are some constants. They play in the same stadium and the supporters haven't changed, with their wonderful humour and their loyalty. City fans deserve to be rewarded for their committed support with an excellent season, but Newcastle have already demonstrated that they should not be underestimated.