Newcastle need to bank on Hughton
The Christmas bonus season is looming large in the business world and, if Chris Hughton had achieved the sort of results he has managed over the course of the last 12 months in any other walk of life, a life-changing payday would soon be coming his way.
Taking a company that was on its knees in the summer of 2009 and transforming it into one of the most successful in the demanding marketplace that is the Premier League would sound like a triumph worthy of reward from your boss, yet Hughton is being afforded very different treatment at Newcastle United.
His triumph in guiding his club to the Championship title last May can never be under-estimated after he started the season as little more than the temporary leader of a business rocking so violently that many predicted it would sink.
Add to that his accomplishment of leading Newcastle to the upper echelons of the Premier League standings after a 5-1 victory over local rivals Sunderland and last Sunday's brilliant victory against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium, and you have a tale that should see Hughton being hailed as a master.
Yet instead of rewarding Hughton for success that makes him a contender to be English football's Manager of the Year for 2010, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias would appear to have an alternative agenda.
As word spread a couple of weeks back that Hughton was about to be sacked hours before a Carling Cup tie with Arsenal, the normally placid ex-Ireland defender struggled to contain his bitter anger. The hard-fought revival he has inspired at Newcastle was seemingly about to be dismissed as worthless by owners whose capacity for unsettling this club seemingly knows no boundaries.
In the end, Messrs Ashley and Llambias pulled Hughton back from the brink and issued a limp statement saying discussions over an increase to his modest wage packet will resume in due course, leaving the boss who has generated more than £100 million in future revenue for owner Ashley in a perilous position.
"I sat down with the owners in the summer and they fully appreciated the scale of the task in front of us this season, but these sentiments can be forgotten when you find yourself doing quite well in the Premier League a few weeks later," Hughton says, politely questioning the motives of his paymasters.
"The owners were fully aware that survival would be a decent achievement when you consider that only four clubs spent less in the transfer market than us in the summer. You often need to spend more than the rest when you come up from the Championship, but that hasn't been possible at Newcastle.
"Given those circumstances, the position we find ourselves in right now is very, very pleasing. To have climbed a comfortable position in the Premier League on the back of a 5-1 win against our biggest rivals and a great victory against Arsenal is an achievement myself and the players can be proud of.
"Whether those results do anything to change my position is something you would have to ask the owners. We have not sat down to discuss a contract and all I can do is carry on working to the best of my ability and ensure that the players are prepared as well as they can be for the next game.
"There will be a time this season when we lose two or three games in a row as that happens to every team at some stage, but we have to be strong enough to stand up to the criticism that will come our way at that point. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what anyone thinks about us as individuals because our job is to try and win football matches."
This London-born boss was buoyed by the generous support he received from Newcastle fans during the romp against Sunderland, with a banner reading 'Hughton is a Geordie' unfurled by ecstatic hoards piling pressure on owner Ashley to hand his manager the contract his success merits.
Ruud Gullit, Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Sam Allardyce and Alan Shearer are among the 'big names' that have tried and failed to succeed in the Newcastle goldfish bowl, but Hughton pulled off the miracle in an environment no one else dared enter a year ago.
"I don't know whether enjoyment would be a word I would attach to this job, but it's certainly a fantastic challenge," he says. "Everything is magnified in this league compared to what I experienced in the Championship last season and it means each little story is a big issue that has the potential to take on a life of its own.
"In many ways, the football matches are the easiest part of this job as all the other little stories going on during the week tend to be more tricky to deal with, but I'm proud to be manager of this great football club and I'll do the job for as long as I'm allowed to.
"When I took on this challenge last year, it was very much on a game by game basis and it seems as if the success we have brought to the club means we all deserve to be given some security. Hopefully we can get this cleared up and then we can all move this club forward in the right manner.
"What makes it all worthwhile is afternoons like the one we had against Sunderland, when the atmosphere at St James' Park was very special. That day will live with me for a long time and I'm sure the fans would say the same. The manager inside me tells me it was just another three points in the grand scheme of things, but I know that isn't really the case. To our supporters, the Sunderland result meant so much and they are the people who matter the most in any football club."
Hughton is believed to be targeting former Chelsea and West Ham assistant boss Steve Clarke to work with him at Newcastle, yet rumour has it that Ashley and his other board members would prefer to see a sidekick appointed from within his current crop of staff.
If a short-term appointment was forced upon him, the notion that they are looking for an excuse to get rid of Hughton sooner rather than later would be hard to ignore and he deserves so much more after a year of almost unbroken success at a club famous for shooting itself in the foot.
Hughton must suspect he is a couple of poor results away from the chop once again after Wednesday night's disappointing home defeat against Blackburn, with the continued uncertainty doing little to help a manager and team who are striving to put some pride back into those black and white shirts.
Forget those big-name managers: the coach currently in place at Newcastle is the most successful this club has had for many a long year, and it would be a tragedy for all concerned if Mike Ashley brought his success story to an end without good reason.