Why Brighton were right to roll the dice and sack Chris Hughton
Background Image Via: Wikimedia Commons/James Boyes. CC BY 4.0.
Just over a week ago, Brighton & Hove Albion took the bold decision to sack Chris Hughton. The 60-year-old has been in charge for almost five years, earning them Championship promotion while consolidating their status as a Premier League side.
Immediately, questions were raised (myself included) in regards to Brighton's decision to fire Hughton, who is arguably the greatest manager in the Seagulls' 117-year history. After ten days to process the information, although controversial, my overwhelming feeling is that Albion were well within their rights to roll the managerial dice.
First and foremost, the proof is in the pudding. In the 2017/18 campaign, Brighton finished fifteenth with 40 points, seven clear of safety with two teams in between themselves and the dreaded drop. However, in 2018/19, it's fair to say that Hughton's team took a backwards step. Whether or not that's due to the fact that other teams now know what to expect from Brighton, rather than taking on a relative unknown, is a question for another day, but this time around they were two points above the relegation zone, placing seventeenth. One result could have been the difference between them heading Luton Town's Kenilworth Road stadium rather than heading to Old Trafford or Anfield.
Not only did Brighton drop two places in the table, they conceded six more goals (60) in 2018/19 than they did in 2017/18 . Hughton's men actually scored one more goal this term (34), but I think it's fair to say that the performance-levels stagnated, if not deteriorated slightly.
Now I know some fans will point to Brighton's FA Cup run as the reasoning behind their Premier League struggles, but you look at the teams they faced along the way. The Seagulls beat everyone they were expected to get a result against; West Brom (after a replay), Millwall (on penalties), Derby County, and AFC Bournemouth (who were heavily rested). When they came up against the one side who were better than them on paper, in Machester City, they were knocked out.
Again, Brighton fans have an affection to Hughton, perhaps that's clouding their judgement somewhat because I'll reiterate, he's probably their best ever manager. But there's a reason why Newcastle United let go of him in similar manner back in 2010; he'd taken them as far as he could.
This is a Brighton team who spent £75million in the summer, do you think their owner, Tony Bloom, was expecting some sort of repayment by moving further up the table? Of course he was, it's only right that he was feeling disappointed come the season's end. Their big-money signing, right-winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, played 24 times without scoring. Martin Montoya and Bernardo did decent jobs, while Hughton spent £4million on goalkeeper David Button who played four league games. Surely that money could have been spent better? Why should the board give him another £75million to spend if the results will be similar?
For all Hughton's humbleness and likeability, his style of football hardly matches his persona. I understand that Brighton aren't expected to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Manchester City and win matches, but when you're taking on sides who're down there with them at the bottom of the table, at the very least you'd like to see the Seagulls have a go and attack someone? Sometimes, his pragmatism in defending tends to get the better of him, if that continues in an ever-changing footballing-landscape, I fear the only way is down.
Sure, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Who knows how Graham Potter will fare? At the very least, Brighton fans can expect an improvement in style, but the board mustn't hold back in their spending, they need to give Potter ample time (just as they gave Hughton) to adapt his style into this playing squad. Although it hurts now, this is an extremely positive move for Brighton going forward.