No hope for progress under Ashley
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.
Chris Hughton's shock departure from St James' Park this week has once again demonstrated that Newcastle United need some stability, but you will never get stability when you have Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias running the club. Ashley has made no secret that he wants to sell Newcastle, and the best day will come when someone buys it from him and runs Newcastle like that club should be run. The club can never go anywhere under Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias - it can't go anywhere, I promise you that.
I do not understand the decision to get rid of Chris. I lived with the same people for eight months - I didn't understand them then and I don't understand them now, and I don't think many of the fans do. When a man buys a club like Mike Ashley did, and he knows as little about football as he does, he is likely to make these sort of mistakes and these sort of judgements, and still think he is doing okay.
When you get the fans saying it is the wrong decision, when you get the players saying it is wrong and when you even get the press saying it is wrong, it tells you, unsurprisingly, that the decision is the wrong one. The news won't have come as a total surprise to Chris, having worked with the people he had been working with for the best part of two and a bit years. He knew what he was dealing with.
It's almost impossible to work in that environment, and that's why I take my hat off to Chris for getting on with it for as long as he did. He hung in there, did a great job under difficult circumstances, with very little investment, and his reward for that is for them to say, 'Thanks very much Chris, you did a great job but we don't want you any more'. The decision is not a reflection on his work at Newcastle, it is a sad reflection on the people running the football club.
Chris certainly deserved to be treated a lot better, but I think the one thing he has got in his favour is that he can walk away knowing full well that the fact those in charge at Newcastle got rid of him is no reflection on the job he did during his time at the club. I don't know what the reason is; you would have to ask Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias. Not many people understand the rationale behind the decision.
It does appear they wanted to remove Chris for a while though. Their minds were made up a long time ago, but results like the 6-0 win over Aston Villa, the 5-1 win against Sunderland and the 1-0 victory at Arsenal made it awkward for them to do so. They waited for an opportune time and the moment presented itself when a couple of results didn't go very well. It would surprise a lot of people, but it does not surprise me.
So what has Chris gained from being at Newcastle? Well, tremendous experience for a start. He was a coach when he went there and, now he has left, he is a manager. If he wants to go back to coaching that would be his choice, but he has proved he can thrive in a leading role. Chris got Newcastle promoted with 102 points in the Championship last season, he was named manager of the year, so if he wants to pursue that avenue, there will be plenty of people who will be very impressed by what he has done at St James' Park. It is disappointing the way it has come to an end, but I don't think, deep down, Chris will be that surprised, knowing the people he was dealing with at the club.
Alan Pardew was confirmed as his replacement on Wednesday and although he is more experienced than Chris was when he started the job, he is not vastly experienced. He has managed for 17 months in the Premier League. But Alan's a good lad. I know him well, he is very dedicated and he works very hard. The sad thing is that Alan is going in and is getting off on the wrong foot through no fault of his own.
The supporters won't be resistant to Alan because of the circumstances of his appointment, though. Any criticism will be levelled at Llambias and Mike Ashley, because it is their decision. The fans would be wrong to pick on Alan. Obviously if results don't go well then they may start to voice discontent, but Alan is just the meat in the middle of the sandwich here.
Deep down, Newcastle fans know they are in a difficult situation because at the moment the man who owns the club doesn't really want it; he has said that publicly. Ashley wants to sell , but also wants to make money and in the current financial climate that will be difficult. Newcastle are in a bit of a corner at the moment, but one thing the fans will do is support the team. The current situation is not the fault of the players, and they will be supported from the stands providing that they give the effort required when you wear that famous shirt. However, Newcastle fans are never going to get behind the current regime, because they have seen too much evidence of things they don't like.