Steve Bruce has had no other ideas but to persevere with the rich vein he’d struck upon thanks to Rafa
I read with astonishment in The Mag, Steve Bruce’s pre-Burnley comments on Rafa Benitez:
“When I walked through the door they were used to playing a certain way and I didn’t want to change that. It was evident they were quite comfortable in what they had done before.
“They’d had a degree of success in the second half of last season, if that’s what you want to call it, But I have said from day one, it is not the way I want to play. It is glaringly obvious we don’t score enough.”
In reporting the comments, the author of the piece was suitably derisive, but I’d like to comment further on what a snide, revisionist, pathetic excuse it is.
Steve Bruce should be gushing in his praise for the the job his predecessor did and the soft landing it gave him at Newcastle United.
At a time when supporters generally had no appetite whatsoever for giving Bruce a chance, the system that he inherited, the spirit and work ethic drilled into the team gave the new man a lot of breathing space. He was able to pick up results that took the club into the top half and kept the mob from his door. His statement is acknowledgement of that as a fact.
Any intelligent manager that had his own ideas about what he could do better, would have spent the months this honeymoon period gave him, working with the players on what he envisioned. Indeed, Rafa Benitez incurred the wrath of many supporters who wanted to see more attacking football in the Championship, by refusing to allow his players off their leash. As much about getting promoted, the season was about instilling in the players what they would need to be if they were to get results in the top flight.
Bruce has shown no such foresight, nobody signed in the Summer or January has been a step towards his vision. He’s had no other ideas but to persevere with the rich vein he’d struck upon thanks to Rafa.
His problem has not been the system that he inherited which led to premature self congratulation and praise from his friends in the media, but his complete inability to integrate his new signings, either into a system of his own, or into the very well rehearsed and productive one he inherited. His inability to come up with any other ideas when the players that Rafa most heavily relied upon have been unavailable.
Under Steve Bruce, after spending £60m on attacking talent, Newcastle score fewer goals than in any other previous Premier League season (0.86 per game). The mental gymnastics you’re required to perform to pin that on your predecessor whose team scored more, are bewildering.
There is of course an excuse that Bruce could use which would have more validity. An obstacle that makes the Newcastle job impossible for any manager. One that his predecessor would frequently allude to and ultimately led to his departure.
The owner of the club holds it back. He ties his managers hands. He sanctions the signings, he decides who gets a contract, he takes punts on injury-prone and unproven players in positions they aren’t needed. He ignores recommendations on primary targets and goes for cheaper second or third choices. He allows players that are critical to leave without better (or even comparable) replacements.
Those are only the concerns on how the squad is managed too, the owner’s negative impact is felt in many more ways throughout the club.
Unlike his predecessor, Steve Bruce is unwilling to acknowledge this. He’d prefer to make excuses that point the finger at people who were better able to cope with these working conditions, than the man that everyone in the football world knows to be the problem.
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