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Opinion

Steve Bruce not good enough for Newcastle but good enough to manage Sports Direct FC

5 months ago
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Newcastle United, a club forever in limbo under Mike Ashley.

I don’t think Steve Bruce is good enough to manage Newcastle United but I would argue that he is probably just about good enough to manage Sports Directt FC.

I’ll explain. The two are not the same.

Newcastle United is the entity that the fans have ambition, hopes and dreams for, Sports Direct FC is the embodiment of Mike Ashley and his business empire.

He’s had the chance over the last 13+ years to run them both in tandem and to grow each of them for the benefit of both. He’s repeatedly refused that chance.

In hiring Steve Bruce, Ashley and co replaced someone who wanted what was best for the club and (crucially) had the wherewithal and knowledge to follow it through. For a manager who I have no doubts wants what’s best for the club, but simply doesn’t have the faintest clue on how to move with the times and improve whichever club he is managing, or whatever players he has at his disposal. Playing at football management is the term I use often.

Performances have got worse, players look pale shadows of Premier League footballers and when results have arrived they have been achieved by an almighty slice of luck. Alright while you can ride it but when it runs out there’s nowhere to look but at the Premier League table. We’re currently 15th.

Talk of sacking the manager in recent days has been increasing from fans both in the visual media and from those “Keyboard Warriors” Bruce was so incensed by, even though he doesn’t read their comments.

Interesting that one. To say his position is a beleaguered one is overegging it somewhat at this stage, he’s not under a great deal of pressure at the minute for three reasons.

The first is the fact that the current bottom three are atrocious and I feel they will have to go some to catch Newcastle this season.

The second is that Mike Ashley will leave him where he is for as long as humanly possible, after all, he did with Steve McClaren, much to club cost and reputation.

The third is most important. People know Bruce is often lucky on the pitch but he has profited from a monumental slice of luck off it, one not afforded any manager in Newcastle United’s history.

He can thank his lucky stars that fans are currently banned from attending matches for if they were attending, if he thinks the “Keyboard Warriors” are harsh and if he thinks they often say nasty things, he’s being remiss in not acknowledging how much vitriol would be streaming down from the St James Park stands at the absolute dross that has been on display for 15 long months now. Forget throwing cabbages, after publicly goading fans some would be tempted to throw their keyboards.

But alas, that’s another problem that he’s been spared, the wrath of the fans.

In the early part of his tenure so far, St James Park saw massively reduced attendances for all but the games where the big teams came to town. In December 2019, the club decided to give away 10,000 tickets to try and fill the void, a totally unheard of situation and one damning of the state of the club under both owner and manager. After insulting fans and worsening displays, I suspect rounding fans up on a matchday and herding them into the ground will be increasingly difficult, even for free.

Salvation for Bruce may yet still come and it would certainly push thoughts of seeing him ousted to the back burner, minus a takeover. There are two windows of opportunity for him and the first is right now.

The next five games see us play Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Leeds away, West Brom and Fulham at home, with five points likely being enough to see him remain in situ from the club’s point of view, anything less and it would depend on how much the bottom three close in as to how itchy Ashley gets. Is five points good enough from my point of view? Of course not, I was thinking at least seven and I don’t think many fans will accept less either.

The second window of opportunity he has is a far more risky one as far as Premier League survival is concerned. We have six games (Wolves, West Brom, Aston Villa, Brighton, Burnley and West Ham) from late February to early April and surely a chance at that late stage of the season to rack some serious points up and achieve survival. The trouble is, that’s quite a way away and we could be in deep clarts by then.

But how lucky is that? To have so many fixtures with which to play with to achieve whatever goal is seen as satisfactory in the eyes of both owner and Steve Bruce himself.

We all know the owner will be happy with mere survival (albeit he won’t want to be sweating on it) but it’s the Head Coach that worries me. This season should have been a time to push on. He’s been afforded a substantial amount of money, he’s had 16 months to change the style of play and he’s got one of the poorest Premier Leagues in terms of quality with which to set a target and yet we languish in 15th spot, seem unable to cross the halfway line in anger and it’s about time he actually started to back up the lucky position he finds himself in with some actual merit.

Most managers would see this season as a doddle to get into the top half and there are plenty games with which to do so but I still have my doubts.

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