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Opinion

Survival wouldn’t have been success this season for Rafa Benitez and it shouldn’t be for Steve Bruce

2 weeks ago
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A big match tonight for Steve Bruce.

The Newcastle United Head Coach heading back to where he got ‘cabbaged’ before receiving his marching orders.

A funny old game.

Sacked after failing at a Championship club and only nine months later headhunted by a Premier League club, only at Newcastle (see Pardew, McClaren etc).

Mike Ashley amazingly, even more than willing to pay out compensation as well to land his man, the first time in his 13 seasons at St James Park that he has ever done this, usually preferring to look amongst the ranks of the unemployed or cheap options of those already at the club (Carver, Hughton).

So not just a big match tonight, it is a massive season for Steve Bruce.

Whilst no other Premier League club would have considered him this summer, Bruce after 20+ years in management, gets a job at his biggest ever club.

One thing that needs to be swiftly dropped is this idea that survival would equal success.

Yes, staying up was seen as success in 2017/18 after Mike Ashley had refused to allow proper net investment in the squad to build on the momentum from promotion. That perfectly summed up by Rafa desperately needing a goalscorer and only allowed £5m to buy Joselu.

Last (2018/19) season it was a similar story, this time Ashley insisting on a £20m+ profit on transfers in and out in summer 2018, plus messing the manager about with Rondon arriving so late. Rafa Benitez having to rely on budget buys and loan players with no buying clause to try and retain Premier League status.

However, this season is different.

If Rafa Benitez had stayed and been allowed the transfer spending that happened this summer, then the expectation on him would have been top half of the table and aiming realistically for top eight.

From what he had inherited and brought in, Rafa had accumulated an excellent set of defenders in Lascelles, Lejeune, Schar, Dummett, Fernandez and Clark, with a formation (three centre-backs) that brought out the very best in them, with an excellent goalkeeper recruited behind them. Both seasons only two clubs outside the top four conceded less goals than Newcastle United.

When you add Hayden and Sean Longstaff in midfield, plus Jonjo Shelvey on a ‘going’ day, good options in the middle of the park.

Add in the form tables that show Newcastle had the eighth best PL form over the last 28 games last season and fifth best form over the final 16 matches, why on earth would you think survival equalled success this coming (2019/20) season?

The big plus on top of everything else of course was that finally Mike Ashley had allowed money to be spent on the most important area of the team.

A claimed figure of around £80m in total spent in 2019 on the forward trio.

Whether it is Joelinton and Saint-Maximin alongside Almiron, or players Rafa would have signed/retained alongside Almiron, the net result is the same. Raised and realistic expectations of better. When you also add in Jetro Willems who has a very good pedigree if staying fit and producing the form he showed in the past, it all adds up to a far stronger squad.

The squad Steve Bruce has is way stronger than many others in this division.

It doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve credit when Newcastle win matches but I think success in the final analysis has to be measured at the end of the season on how close Newcastle are to the top six, not how far above the bottom three they (hopefully) are.

With the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal and Spurs having serious issues this season, Leicester have taken significant advantage.

Not saying Newcastle should be up there with them but we should be looking up not down this season and that is regardless of who the manager or head coach happens to be.

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