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Leading from the front

TWO OF A KIND: Hughton and Powell (left)

A BLACK manager must prove himself at the highest level before others can be given similar opportunities.

The fortunes of Chris Hughton and Chris Powell take on a broader significance within the institutionally racist managerial selection processes that afflict the football boardrooms of England.

With John Barnes and Paul Ince stranded in the managerial wilderness and few others coming through, there is real hope that Hughton and Powell can become the first black managers from the British Isles to establish themselves in the upper echelons of the league.

Hughton is on the way to consolidating Norwich’s meteoric rise from League One to the Premier League under Paul Lambert’s guidance. Reigning League One champions Charlton Athletic have similar ambitions as they strive to come to terms with the Championship.

After a sluggish start, Hughton has demonstrated why Norwich plucked him from Championship side Birmingham in the summer – a move that prevented Hughton and Powell becoming the first black managers to meet in an English league fixture this season.

Lambert was a tough act to follow but both Arsenal and Manchester United have succumbed at Carrow Road. Champions Manchester City and Chelsea were also given thorough examinations in recent defeats.

Under Hughton’s stewardship, the midfield trio of Wes Hoolahan, Anthony Pilkington and summer signing Robert Snodgrass flourish in a manner that has reduced the Canaries’ reliance upon the goals of Grant Holt.

In addition to persuading Holt to stay and bringing in Snodgrass from Leeds, Hughton’s eye for talent saw the shrewd acquisition of midfielder Alexander Tettey, whose physicality allows the aforementioned midfield triumvirate to dovetail.

The arrival of the centre-back pairing of Michael Turner and Sebastien Bassong provided the base on which Norwich’s recent run of 10 unbeaten matches was built.

A run of four defeats cannot mask Norwich’s progress as they sit in mid-table. “If you had asked me at the beginning of the season if I would be happy with the points tally we have at this stage, then yes, I would be,” Hughton said last month.

That the former Republic of Ireland full-back goes about his business with characteristic humility makes it all the more pleasurable to champion his efforts.

If Norwich thrive it is reasonable to assume that Hughton will one day be considered for a managerial position at one of the Premier League’s bigger clubs.

Managerial success is often hard-earned and Chris Powell knows that well. When he took Charlton to the League One title last season it was a superb achievement for the former England international full-back, who starred as Charlton graced the Premier League under Alan Curbishley.

This campaign has been a mixed affair, with Charlton sitting lower mid-table and a largely unchanged squad still adapting to the second-tier.

Yet the affable and charismatic Powell has been given breathing space to establish the south-east Londoners in the Championship.

“It’s a really topsy-turvy league, but one we are getting used to slowly but surely,” he said in the wake of New Year’s Day’s thrilling 4-3 defeat of high flyers Watford.

It ended a run of six winless matches and moved the Addicks eight points clear of relegation trouble.

A return to the Premier League is the ultimate ambition and if Powell remains at the helm he may yet be able to restore the lustre of the Curbishley years.

If both can craft a legacy of success it will offer encouragement to a frustrated black football fraternity more used to seeing boardroom doors slammed in their faces.

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