David Hennessy talks to Brighton and Hove Albion manager Chris Hughton about the club’s preparations for the new term, making history with the Irish team at Euro ‘88 and why managing Republic of Ireland is not something he thinks about
“Certainly the chance or the opportunity to take this club into the premier league is an ambition,” manager of Brighton and Hove Albion Chris Hughton tells the Irish World ahead of the forthcoming championship season. “There’s no doubt it’s an ambition for everybody at this club. That’s why we’ll be working very, very hard for that to happen. Sometimes it might take longer than what you want but absolutely it would be an ambition to take this team there.”
Hughton took over a club threatened with relegation halfway through the last campaign. It did not take long for results to improve with Hughton guiding Brighton well clear of the drop zone before the season’s end. The club finished in the play-off places the two seasons before and Hughton aims to get them back to the elevated position they enjoyed under Gus Poyet: “I think it (the aim for this season) has to be having a team that has the ability to challenge.
“We lost five loan players and we lost another three out of contract so we lost some eight players towards the end of last season so I think we have to be realistic, we have to make sure that we have put ourselves in a position to compete at whatever stage of the season which means filling in the areas where we need to strengthen the squad and strengthen the team.
“I think we have got to be confident come the start of the season but I think absolutely, I think for a team like ourselves who had two years in the play-off positions, a difficult season last season, you have to want to get back to competing at the other end of the table.”
Are the club thinking about further signings? “Yes, we are. We can’t just think about a team, you have got to think about a squad that is able to compete with the amount of games. We need to make sure we have the right amount of numbers to be able to compete. We’re still looking to strengthen this squad.”
“I think the initial bit wasn’t so difficult because I took over a team that were on the back of better results. If they had been on the back of some heavy defeats, I think the mentality’s a little bit different.
“We had a very good group of lads, my general feeling was that they wanted to do well. I think their level of performance was acceptable, where we found it difficult was to get the goals that we needed to make life a little bit more comfortable for ourselves. I think apart from the one game against Watford (0-2 defeat at home) which was where they actually won promotion, we never lost a game by more than a goal so I think we were tight enough and resilient enough as a team but found it very difficult creating and scoring goals that we needed to go and win games.”
Hughton spent most of his playing career with Tottenham Hotspur where he rose through the youth ranks. He won two FA Cups and the 1984 UEFA Cup with Spurs before having spells at West Ham and Brentford.
The first mixed race player to represent the Boys in Green, he earned 53 caps from 1979 to 1991. Hughton played all three games for Jack Charlton’s team in Euro ’88, Ireland’s first involvement in a major competition, and travelled to Italia ’90 where Ireland reached the last eight.
Hughton played all three games of that ’88 finals campaign with started with a win over England before Ireland drew with the Soviet Union and were only beaten by a late goal by the eventual champions, Holland: “Yeah, it was a good era and certainly at international level, it was the best period of my career. Although I was part of the 1990 squad which was a great experience as well, I didn’t play in the games there and ‘88 having been the first championship that we had qualified for. I think the manner in which we conducted ourselves, of course the England win, we played very, very well against a Russian team and there was not a lot in it in the game that we lost, really we probably should have gone through. Certainly from an international point of view, that would be the absolute highlight.”
Asked if he felt less part of the 1990 experience due to not playing (Steve Staunton was preferred), Chris says: “I wouldn’t take away from this experience. What you want is you’re part of a team and a squad and you’re pushing the lads on and you want the team to do great but it’s difficult when you’re not playing the games.
“Your first priority has to be to make yourself available and be part of a group and encourage everybody to want to do well. Anybody will tell you in a tournament or experience, if you’re not playing the games, then of course it’s a little bit of a different feeling and can be a little frustrating but the experience itself was great and from the supporters to what the team achieved was brilliant to be around. ‘88 would have been something I enjoyed more because I played.”
Chris was assistant to Brian Kerr in his time in charge of the national team. Now that Chris has been impressing as a manager for many years, some see him as a manager of the Republic in the future. Is this an ambition for the manager? “I must admit it’s not something I think about. There’s always some thoughts there and for some I think it might be a bigger ambition but it’s not something that I must admit I think about.
“What I am enjoying very much at this moment is the day to day workings of a football manager so at the moment, that takes over all my thoughts. At some stage in the future, that might be a little bit different but at the moment, I think the activities of the day to day are what excite me more.
“But I think anyone who has played for their country is always wanting the team to do well and looking at the manager and hope he does well and certainly in Martin (O’Neill, manager) who I know very well. I desperately hope the team are able to qualify and do well.”
For the full interview, see this week’s Irish World.