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Opinion

When the question becomes Ralph Hasenhuttl or Steve Bruce?

4 months ago
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It’s strange and perplexing to hear talk from pundits and those in the media about the job that Steve Bruce has done at Newcastle United this season.

There was even talk recently that lumped Bruce into the running for the Manager of the Season award.

I mean, really?

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With all the other achievements that various clubs have managed this season, like Liverpool storming to the title, Sean Dyche shining at Burnley, or Wolves and Sheffield United’s impressive work, is stuttering to an 11-16th place, playing some downright turgid football, REALLY worthy of even being put into the bracket of Manager of the Season?

The plaudits are plentiful:

“Doing as good a job as anyone could have” (Alan Shearer)

“Deserves a lot of credit” and has done “a better job” than Rafa Benitez (Jermaine Jenas)

“He has worked wonders” (Charlie Nicholas)

All those comments are quite frankly absurd.

Nobody can say with any certainty that the job Steve Bruce has done is “as good as anyone could have” without giving another manager this season under the exact same conditions, Alan should really think before delivering such impossible to prove tosh, regardless of the defence of his friend.

For our persistent irritation from Sky Sports, Charlie Nicholas, a frequent rubbish raconteur of all things Newcastle United, to say Bruce has “Worked wonders” is quite subjective but is a lower mid-table finish working “wonders?”. I beg to differ. Maybe if we had finished comfortably in the top half or were pushing Europe then such outrageous fawning would be more than justified.

It’s former midfielder Jenas’ comments that provide the most ammunition for analysis.

I would certainly give Bruce credit for achieving survival but it really is giving faint praise. Look at the bottom four teams, they are absolutely awful, I mean REALLY awful. Norwich were heading back to the Championship long before the lockdown, Bournemouth have been shocking (as emphasised by our own worthy 4-1 win down there) and if you take Jack Grealish out of Aston Villa, they would be as bad as Norwich. Watford have a few decent players but are by and large very poor.

But what does that say about Newcastle? We’ve only taken a point off Watford (a 1-1 draw at St James Park) we’ve only managed a point at home to Brighton, lost away and drew at home to Villa and we’ve only managed a point off the now relegated Norwich. There’s scraping the barrel and there’s scraping the barrel for positives.

It was Jermaine’s comments about doing a better job than Benitez that is up for conjecture. It’s a well trodden debate but it’s also completely false. In 2017/18 Newcastle managed 44 points and a -8 goal difference, the following season Benitez managed a point more and a goal difference of -6, slow but steady improvement on minimal spend. This season (so far) Steve Bruce has overseen a points haul of 43 and a goal difference of -18 with two games to play. This is all despite having £70m+ worth of players brought in this season, at his disposal. Working wonders and giving a lot of credit isn’t what I would be levelling at him. The bare minimum more like.

Steve Bruce said recently that he was pleased that (at the time of his comments) the club was only two points behind Southampton, the same Southampton that was hammered by Leicester City 9-0 earlier this season in quite an extraordinary match that would have set alarm bells ringing in the boardroom at St Mary’s.

Quite incredibly (as it stands), Southampton have gone on to bounce back from that trouncing and have got themselves 6 points AHEAD of Newcastle United and STILL have a better goal difference than we do, an achievement made all the more remarkable when you consider that we actually beat Southampton both home and away this season, taking the full six points off them. Now that’s some achievement.

The difference between Newcastle and Southampton is minimal. We chucked away around 20 goals in Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon and replaced them with Joelinton. Southampton gained a proper striker in Danny Ings, a £20m capture from Liverpool. That’s half a Joelinton if you’re going off transfer fees, a bargain in comparison.

So with that in mind, if you are going on achievement, give the Manager of the Year award to Ralph Hasenhuttl.

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