Comment – Fragile is the only description for Newcastle United as we speak
When it comes to Newcastle United at the minute, one word stands out for me.
Looking at the dictionary definition of ‘fragile’ you have ‘Easily broken or damaged…easily destroyed or threatened…not strong or sturdy…delicate and vulnerable.’
Being fragile doesn’t mean something will definitely be broken, it just means it is in a position now where it is more likely to break.
These past three and a bit seasons had seen manager, players and fans build up an excellent triangular relationship of strength and trust.
A belief that even at times of adversity and a repetitive undermining of the situation by the owner, we would pull through together.
It wasn’t blind trust.
Rafa Benitez arrived with a top class reputation having worked at the highest level (all six clubs he managed directly before Newcastle, are all competing this coming season in the Champions League. However, the Spaniard quickly rubber stamped that reputation by putting together an end of season run of three draws and three wins in the final six games of the 2015/16 season (including draws at home to Man City and away at Liverpool, as well as a 5-1 hammering of Spurs). Not enough to repair the Ashley/McClaren damage but he then also followed that up with instant promotion back to the top tier, then Premier League finishes of 10th and 13th, both times 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
As for the players, working alongside the manager, they hand in hand earned the respect of the Newcastle fans. Those that stayed after relegation helped get the team back up and then built on that by, along with the signings on a tight budget, produced these two very decent PL finishes, in the circumstances.
When it came to the fans, selling out the dead game that was Spurs (5-1) in order to help persuade Rafa to stay, played a valuable part. Then averaging over 51,000 in the Championship most definitely sealed the deal.
Fast forward to the present day and that triangular relationship is most definitely broken.
It has been replaced by one that can be described as ‘fragile’ at best.
That trust has to be built up again and whilst Rafa Benitez arrived with so much goodwill because he was prepared to take on his Newcastle United ‘project’ after having left Real Madrid only a couple of months earlier. The truth is that Steve Bruce is having to start the job from a point somewhere behind a clean slate.
I take no pleasure in it but it is just simple fact. If Mike Ashley had replaced Rafa Benitez with somebody who is one of the most talked about up and coming managers, or a more experienced candidate with a very good CV, it would have gone some way to diluting the feeling of ‘here we go again’…
However, just like when JFK, Pardew, Carver and McClaren were given the job, Newcastle fans now that no other Premier League club would have appointed Steve Bruce this summer.
For then Mike Ashley to force him to have the title of Head Coach just confirmed the situation for Newcastle fans and made it even tougher for Steve Bruce to have any credibility. He can claim as often as he likes that he has a major say on signings but nobody, apart from certain sections of the media, are willing to accept that.
Rafa Benitez had some tough times at Newcastle and when back in the top tier in 2017/18, the team went from beating Stoke 2-1 on 16 September 2017 and winning 3-2 at West Ham on 23 December 2017, they only won one PL game in 13, a fortunate last minute 1-0 win (Merino header) over Palace.
Last season, there were no wins in the first 10 (11 including the League Cup), the first victory on 3 November 2018. Then after beating Burnley on 26 November 2018, there was only one win in nine until beating Cardiff 3-0 on 19 January 2019.
Yet remarkably the crowd never once turned on Rafa Benitez or his players. Supporter weren’t happy about it but they understood the situation and trusted Rafa’s experience and ability to sort it out.
Looking at things now only 48 hours before transfer deadline and five days before the first match, you just know that a half decent start is vital for Steve Bruce, or else it is going to get very difficult, very very quickly.
Rafa was choosing the signings even though he was knocked back on many of them, now we don’t have a clue who is the main man when deciding who should be brought in.
Once again, just like last season, the fixture list hasn’t been kind. Especially when you factor in a chaotic summer beyond description. One signing having a couple of weeks of pre-season and two more signed hours before the final pre-season friendly.
Nine of the first 11 games are against clubs who finished in the top 11 last season.
As for more instant pressure, there is every chance Newcastle could lose their first three games. Arsenal and Tottenham are odds on to beat NUFC, whilst in between Steve Bruce takes his team to Norwich where it will be their first home game back in the Premier League, the Canaries are slight favourites (2/1) against Newcastle (9/4).
Defeat in those three games would see only the second home match as massive, Watford at home on 31 August, a game that is followed by a two week international break and then Liverpool away.
The cards haven’t fallen kindly for Steve Bruce.
The new Head Coach has been keen to talk about playing attacking football and the cups being a priority. If these first three PL matches do go wrong, Steve Bruce will have to deal with selecting a team for the League Cup in the midweek ahead of that Watford match. Does anybody really think he would then back up those words and pick the likes of Joelinton, Almiron and other key players?
Steve Bruce has taken on a very very difficult situation and being prepared to do so takes some mental strength.
We can all say that what is the worst that can go wrong, an early sacking and compensation, but the stress levels will quickly reach potentially record levels if a decent start to the season doesn’t happen.
There is no safety net such as what Rafa had because of his CV and respect from the fans.
Steve Bruce is a bit like one of those you see crossing the Grand Canyon without anything to catch him if he falls.
Plus with this being Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United, he will, just like those before him, be the one that goes out in front of the media regardless of how bad it gets, with nobody from the club such as Lee Charnley or whoever, sharing that burden.
All eyes and all the pressure will be on Steve Bruce.
Any manager (or head coach) who delivers more victories than defeats will win the fans over but Steve Bruce’s CV these past two decades in the Premier League, says that this won’t happen.
If it all goes wrong for Steve Bruce in this job, the mind really boggles when trying to visualise what Mike Ashley’s plan B might be.
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]