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Opinion

Newcastle United Weekly: The Journey of a Lifetime

1 year ago
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After an exhaustive search, which came as a complete surprise to a Newcastle United board who only had a month’s notice, NUFC finally got themselves a new “Head Coach” this past week.

Attempts to get a young and ambitious manager failed, as did attempts at getting people who managed in the Premier League last season, even attempts to get previous NUFC managers failed. And Mark Hughes knocked it back. So the club arrived at Steve Bruce.

Never mind that he was eleventh choice for the job, that his Premier League record is more Bryan Robson than Bobby Robson, never mind that he’s rarely had a good word to say about the club he supported as a boy, just remember that he’s a Geordie you know, so we like him and will back him.

The club are still facing a legal challenge to his recruitment from previous club Sheffield Wednesday, who this week said they had reported United’s “conduct” to the Premier League who will then look into it. Good luck with that, we have been reporting their conduct for the last twelve years.

It may feel like going from Rafa Benitez to Steve Bruce is like swapping your Audi for a Yaris but the reality is that the Newcastle United journey is currently a job for a Yaris, not a Porsche.

Many pundits have said that Steve Bruce is the best man for the job. He is the best man for the job, the job of keeping himself in a job while dismally maintaining Newcastle’s presence in the Premier League in order to advertise the worlds worst sportswear jumble sale. I hope Bruce is up to the job, though it doesn’t really matter if he is or isn’t, he’ll get the sack, get a pay-off and get another job. It is Ashley’s Yaris and you either do what he says or leave.

The Walrus of Walsall had the chance to take the club to the next level with a proven managerial achiever and he rejected that chance because that journey would have partially relinquished control of his business. That seems to a compromise Ashley is not willing to accept, he wants total control no matter what the consequences.

Most of the press have said is that Steve Bruce is a nice guy. Well nice guy or not, Mike Ashley has sooner or later fallen out with everyone he has met at NUFC who had a spine, whether they were nice or not. No amount of “I’m in control” type statements are going to fool anyone, the facts are that Bruce will either do what Ashley says or leave. He might think he has a say but he doesn’t. The only thing he can say to keep his job is “yes”.

A puppet

One thing the change in manager did do is put the media into a feeding frenzy. All manner of numpties and know-it-alls have earned a few grand rolling out any old dross and it has been hard to listen, so I didn’t. Fortunately, I switched off from the tittle-tattle virtually straight away when Kevin Nolan said:”The glamour of managing Newcastle has gone – you are not going to get a Jose Mourinho.” You are right Kevin, because we had one and he left.

Jonjo Shelvey has been impressed by Bruce’s appointment. Not one of Rafa’s favourites, presumably because of his inability to play anywhere near his reputed level on a consistent basis, Shelvey is one of the winners of the managerial change. Jonjo joins the likes of Saivet, Aarons, Gayle, Lazaar, Colback and Murphy in a group of players who will be looking to impress the new head coach. Certainly, Shelvey and Gayle could be close or in the first team if they can play anywhere near their previous level and the early indications are that Shelvey is going to give it his all:

“Steve is a lot different to Rafa. You never knew what Rafa was thinking. His record speaks for itself and he probably didn’t need to talk to you and tell you what he’s thinking but personally as a player I’d rather have someone who talks to you and you know what he’s thinking.”

Well, I’m guessing here Jonjo but what Rafa was probably thinking was how a player with your talent can play so consistently average and expect a game.

Still, one of the barometers of Bruce’s tenure will be how he motivates the players. A key to Rafa’s plan was getting the players to buy in to the tactics and the vision and it largely worked. There were stutters and there were exceptions but generally the team and the players looked to be fully focussed and improving both collectively and individually.

We will know after a couple of months whether those same players will be continuing that commitment and improvement, or whether they will be starting to go through the motions and eye the exit door.

For me, after the initial post-change chaos, it is not the results or the entertainment which will be an indication of how Bruce is getting on, it will be written on the players faces. We will know if they still want it and still believe it. After the teams’ friendly victory over West Ham Steve Bruce was seen to turn to the coaching staff and amusingly quip “shall we fu.. off now”. It is good that he has retained his sense of humour, he’s going to need it. Let the Stevolution begin.

The age of Benitez is over, the time of the Bruce has come

I have no wish to pull apart everything Bruce has said in his press conferences and he when he said he was looking to “prove the doubters wrong” he doesn’t have to include me in that. I don’t doubt him. I don’t doubt that he can consistently coach the team to the 14th place in the Premier League for the next three years. I just doubt that I can be bothered to watch it.

I don’t agree with a boycott of SJP and I don’t want Mike Ashley to stop me going but he probably will in the end. Not because of the politics of it all, but if the people who haven’t renewed their tickets are the people who sing, create the atmosphere and make the match worth going to whatever the result, well if they stop going then I will as well.

I don’t want to sit there with the moaners and the oldies who are there to get away from their wives, with the tourists and the freebies. I only go to the match for the occasion. Take that away and it isn’t worth going anyway.

Why I go

On the pitch, I didn’t watch either of the friendlies, I rarely do but I was equally not going to cry in the cupboard over a 4-0 defeat to Wolves as get over-excited after a 1-0 win over West Ham, who are now officially relegation favourites. Friendlies are there for two purposes, the first for the manager/coach to gradually improve the players fitness and understanding of team tactics in order to achieve maximum performance come the first game of the season. The second for the club to advertise its goods and improve its business share of the market. Presumably this tournament was mainly for the second reason as I can’t see any fitness benefit in flying the team over to China a week after they have started pre-season training, unless the pre-flight punch up in Morpeth was a team bonding exercise.

The club continued its chaotic and unfathomable journey by breaking the club record transfer fee on an unproven young striker to play in an as yet unknown team formation. Quite why they are trusting the opinions of a Head of Recruitment who has so far achieved very little in football over a Champions League winner is again a mystery to most of us.

As much of a mystery as very probably beginning negotiations into signing the player before knowing who the manager was going to be or how the team would play, assuming the manager has any say on the second part of that sentence. It all smacks of the club returning to the tried and trusted formula of recruitment which served them so well in that fifth-place finish surrounded by mid-table dross and relegations. Players viewed as commodities and who are encouraged to see the club as a stepping stone rather than becoming part of something, the foundation of the restoration of a great temple of worship. Going back to something which continually achieved sporting mediocrity and an increase of the clubs’ debt sounds daft to me.

Still, welcome to Joelinton. Another recruit with big boots to fill.

Let’s hope he didn’t get them from Sports Direct.

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