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Opinion

Memo to the head coach: ‘When in a hole, please stop digging’

4 months ago
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The year 1936 was memorable for many reasons: the Berlin Olympics, with Jesse Owens winning four athletics gold medals while Adolf Hitler’s theory of Aryan supremacy took a hell of a beating; the accession and, in pursuit of nookie, swift abdication of Edward VIII; the first public television broadcasts by the BBC; the completion of the Hoover Dam; and, closer to home, the start of the Jarrow March on October 5.

Any decent amateur historian could list many other notable events.

One of my favourites is the publication of a massively successful self-help book called How To Win Friends And Influence People. It was written by Dale Carnegie, an American academic, and has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. The book claims to teach you how to increase your popularity; persuade people to follow your way of thinking; become a better speaker; and boost enthusiasm among your colleagues.

Those with the misfortune to have made my acquaintance will be unsurprised to learn I have never read this opus magnum. Neither, I suspect, has Stephen Roger Bruce, whose Magnum of choice might well be double-choc.

Though perhaps I’m dissing our head coach unfairly. He was, after all, the celebrity author of three literary gems in 1999. These attempts at crime fiction are pithily titled Striker! . . . Sweeper! . . . and Defender! Trust Steve Bruce to disregard the importance of the Keeper!

So why do I believe Steve Bruce has ignored Carnegie’s most famous work?

He’s undoubtedly popular among his peers, by whom I mean ex-footballers such as Robbie Savage, Tim Sherwood and Danny Murphy. With friends like these . . . (you can fill in the rest). But can he increase his popularity? Or achieve any of the other aims listed by Carnegie? Not with the sort of comments he seems to love making, such as the drivel spouted after our defeat by Man City. What does he expect to gain in saying: “The histrionics that have gone on is quite ridiculous at times . . . but that is what it is at a club like ours.”?

At the risk of twisting his gibberish, I believe this to mean that those finding fault with him and his team’s performances are guilty of quite ridiculous histrionics. Well, pardon me and any other long-suffering supporters for having the temerity to wonder why the so-called football being “produced” nearly 18 months after he was appointed is nearly unwatchable. On second thoughts, delete “nearly”. Yes, his predecessor at St James’ Park was hardly the best advert for expansive, free-flowing thrill-a-minute entertainment but there were clear signs of progress. The players appeared to know what they were doing. Teamwork was evident, confidence improving.

Since July 17 last year the momentum is almost all backwards, especially on the field. The pace essential if a team are to play on the counter-attack has all but vanished. The discipline needed when set up to absorb pressure (defending from the front) is a distant memory. One of the few positives has been the finishing and all-round play of Callum Wilson; the other is the reliability of our stand-in keeper. Thank you, Alan Pardew, for signing Karl Darlow in 2014. Where we would be without those two exceptions to the rule of mediocrity is all too easy to imagine, not that our head coach seems to be worried. More food for thought after the most recent defeat: “My remit is to keep Newcastle in the Premier League. We are where we are [WTF does that ever mean?] It’s been like this for the last four or five years. I will keep trying to edge us forward.”

Presumably this was the remit outlined to Geordie Steve Mk2 when he was appointed by Mike Ashley. “Hello, Steve. Welcome to the Sports Direct Arena. I know you have a long and consistent record of winning eff all. That’s what I want. Just make sure the players keep us in the Premier League. Cups and, God forbid, European campaigns are a nuisance. Get it? Got it? Good!”

Steve Bruce has repeatedly declared change will not come “overnight”. That is known as managing expectations. He has never suggested decline is on the agenda but the only way he is edging us forward is towards the relegation places. Our head coach will turn 60 on New Year’s Eve and can boast, as he often does, more than 20 years of experience. Ten clubs have hired him, with Wigan backing their judgment not once but twice. The only reason for hope I can find in those statistics is that on average his tenure lasts no more than two years.

Some television rent-a-mouths like to tell us: “It’s the hope that kills you.” As is so often the case, they are talking rubbish. What kills us is the thought that there is no reason to hope. Even Pandora, who released all the evils of the world by opening her box, managed to close it in time to save hope, the last of the contents. Perhaps now is the time for our chief coach to shut his box.

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