The former Hull City chairman Adam Pearson was on the brink of a shock return to the club last night after a remarkable day in which under-pressure manager Phil Brown broke his silence to claim that his job was safe.
Brown told The Independent last night that he will definitely be staying, but his future was once again up in the air in the light of Pearson's prospective return. Pearson, 45, was Derby County's executive chairman until yesterday, having left Hull two years ago.
Brown insisted last night that he was not about to be sacked. Contacted at 4.50pm yesterday, and asked whether he believed he his job was safe, Brown said: "I'm fine, yes."
Speculation was rife that Brown, 50, who won promotion with Hull through the play-offs in 2008 was about to be dismissed. Asked whether he expected still to be Hull manager this morning, Brown said: "I certainly do." He said he had "no idea" where the rumours about his sacking had come from.
Despite Brown's protestations, a number of bookmakers, including Paddy Power and William Hill, yesterday suspended betting on Brown being the next Premier League manager to leave his job.
With Pearson returning to the club the future of chairman Paul Duffen, a key ally of Brown, is placed in serious doubt. Pearson was one of the youngest chairmen in football when he took charge of Hull in 2001 having worked at Leeds as a commercial director. He has become a less central figure at Derby County since the American company General Sports and Entertainment took over in January last year.
Pearson quit his post at Derby last night where his official title was the chairman of football. Working under the American chairman Andy Appleby, Pearson has reduced the wage bill and the club's debt level. He is expected to work alongside Essex-based property developer Russell Bartlett, who owns Hull, in the new regime. That had been the plan when he originally sold the club to Bartlett in 2007 but Pearson lasted only a month before resigning.
Dean Windass, the striker who scored the play-off goal that got Hull promoted, said it was time for Brown to "get moved on". Windass, who left Hull in January, said: "I think sometimes you need a fresh change. Phil's done a fantastic job since he's been there but I think it's time that he should get moved on and bring somebody else in."
Brown seemed to have the brightest future ahead of him in the league last season when his club even went joint top of the table after nine games. However he presided over a remarkable slide after that, winning just two more games, and last season finished with Hull only securing their top-flight status on the last day of the season when Newcastle lost to Aston Villa.
This season Brown's regime has been undermined by suggestions that many of his players have lost faith in their manager. Hull are 18th in the table with only two wins all season and face 11th-placed Burnley on Saturday in a crucial game. He was booed by his own fans for substituting Stephen Hunt in the 0-0 draw against Portsmouth on Saturday.
The departure of Duffen will be critical for Brown. The Hull manager has always appeared to enjoy a matey relationship with the chairman but recent financial difficulties have brought the club's plight into sharper focus.
It emerged yesterday that the club's accounts have included a warning that could trigger a Premier League investigation and possible sanctions. The accountants Deloitte said that the club's ability to continue "as a going concern" would be under threat if they dropped out the Premier League. It was a similar note in Liverpool's accounts that caused them to be investigated in June.
Deloitte claim that Hull would have to generate £23m if they were relegated to meet their liabilities. They lost £9.7m in their promotion season and while the latest accounts do not cover the most recent season in the Premier League they do stipulate that even if Hull stay up this year they will still have to find £16m to survive.
These kind of accountants' warnings are exactly the sort of triggers that the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said could potentially force the league to take control of the club under new powers conferred on it this season. As it stands there are no sanctions against Hull because, unlike Portsmouth, they do not owe money to fellow clubs in the league.