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Opinion

Incredible reporting of Steve Bruce transfer strategy

7 months ago
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Steve Bruce announced on Monday at his pre-match press conference that he was meeting Mike Ashley sometime this week.

Expecting the usual surprise helicopter in and out of the training ground later in the week, the Newcastle United owner surprised everybody when turning up at the Rochdale FA Cup reply.

In that post-match press conference, Steve Bruce stated that Mike Ashley was going to be around for ‘a day or two’.

By 2pm on Wednesday he (Ashley) was back at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook base, with it reported that Steve Bruce had met his boss on Wednesday morning.

The January transfer window is always full of rumours and guesswork for all clubs, with Newcastle United you have all these added levels of intrigue (nonsense?) due to the way Mike Ashley has ran the club these past 13 years.

Endless speculation from journalists on not just claims of which players Newcastle may or may not sign but also over the top analysis/guesswork of what Mike Ashley’s visit means, what Steve Bruce has said about the transfer window and owner and what that might then mean…

After the circus of Mike Ashley’s visit (at which other club do you regularly hear in advance of ‘transfer summits’ with the owner, or indeed other transfer summits/meetings between the manager/head coach and other staff, a relentless PR drive to make it look like the club are trying…?), there has been a curious across the board reporting about the position with transfers.

Almost without exception, the journalists covering Newcastle United are claiming that Steve Bruce is definitely adopting the right strategy, giving him the best chance of success in this transfer window.

As with all of these things, what Steve Bruce is doing is then compared to what happened with Rafa Benitez.

Not surprisingly, the press pack are coming  out in favour of the NUFC Head Coach.

The storyline goes that Rafa Benitez was his own worst enemy because he was nasty to Mike Ashley and didn’t know his place, he went up against the owner, annoyed/upset him and so no surprise that Ashley repeatedly refused to allow credible money to be spent on signings.

On the other hand, Steve Bruce is taking the clever approach, always saying how great Mike Ashley is, not upsetting him, making no demands, not pushing the owner into a corner by saying signings are definitely needed (‘if no signings are made I am very happy with current squad etc etc) and repeatedly and repeatedly saying that Ashley couldn’t be more supportive.

The bottom line is that Steve Bruce is grateful for what he is given, even if it is nothing, and will not deviate from following the script that he agreed to when he took the job. Head Coach with only the responsibility/authority to train and pick the team, Mike Ashley to decide which players are bought and sold, Steve Bruce then to follow the prepared PR script at all press conferences and all other times.

The media are not acknowledging it but this is simply Alan Pardew all over again.

Pardew would tell us that the club were looking to bring in numerous signings and then if/when none of them arrived, he would say that he had a great squad and it wasn’t a problem that no players had arrived.

This was seen to great effect when Newcastle finished fifth in 2012 and Alan Pardew gave a number of interviews, one on BBC Radio Newcastle in particular, where he said the club would definitely be making sure they built with ambition on the surprise top five finish, that they wouldn’t waste the opportunity and he outlined a number of signings that would be made without actually naming individuals. In the end there was zero net spend and a number of squad players including Fraser Forster were sold to pay for squad player Vurnon Anita, the only signing that summer. Pardew at the end of the transfer window still said he couldn’t be happier with his squad and then Newcastle nearly got relegated 12 months after finishing fifth, only confirming survival when winning the final away game at QPR.

You then had an amazing/ridiculous 18 month spell (between January 2013 and summer 2014), where Newcastle didn’t buy a single player, yet Pardew would still constantly talk about bringing in players, then when nobody arrived, say how happy he was.

The journalists are keen to rewrite history with Rafa Benitez and what happened with Mike Ashley.

Rafa agreed to stay despite being in the Championship, after Mike Ashley made a number of assurances, especially on transfers.

Summer 2016 and both parties were happy, Rafa Benitez had to rebuild the team/squad for promotion with masses of players leaving, getting just over £50m to bring in players, whilst Ashley happy with a £40m profit on deals in and out.

Only four months later, Rafa wanted to make signings to ensure promotion and start planning for the Premier League, yet Mike Ashley refused to allow the manager to even bring in a loan signing in January 2017.

Within months the owner had made very clear how things stood and for Rafa Benitez, having left Real Madrid only 12 months earlier, to say thank you very much Mr Ashley sorry for asking you to keep your promises, was just totally unrealistic AND would have been totally wrong.

Benitez has been told he would be backed to rebuild the squad/club and only at the second transfer window he was already finding himself undermined and humiliated.

This was all Mike Ashley’s work and he continued it every transfer window after that, starving Rafa Benitez of any realistic transfer funds.

Indeed, irony of ironies, it was only on the very last day of Rafa’s very last transfer window, when Mike Ashley allowed credible level money to be spent, Miguel Almiron signing for £16m in a deal that could rise to £20m.

However, from that point on Mike Ashley was determined that only he would decide which players would sign from that point on, with Rafa Benitez forced out of the door.

That is why we now have Steve Bruce saying he is happy with whatever happens, whatever Mike Ashley decides to do.

After all, when you have been plucked from the lower leagues into a Premier League job you couldn’t have dreamed of being offered, you had better not forget how grateful you need to be to the person who has employed you…

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