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Opinion

The myth of Steve Bruce

1 month ago
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After ten coaches were approached for the position of Newcastle United manager, Stephen Roger Bruce, ex-Manchester United legend and longstanding English manager, was offered the job. I bet he couldn’t believe his luck.

This is a man who has been fortunate enough to lead some of the country’s most prestigious clubs: Aston Villa, Birmingham, Wigan, Hull, Crystal Palace and, yes, our less-than-noisy neighbours, Sunderland.

Steve Bruce has now managed his 1000th game against Spurs.

Bruce seems to be one of the last remaining bastions of that era of British football managers, having seen the likes of Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley, Alan Pardew, and Mark Hughes fall by the wayside. Up stepped young, vibrant and hungry managers in the guise of Rodgers, Potter, Howe, Gerrard, and Lampard. And it may be because of this nostalgia of the old ways that Bruce is much-loved by the media (in particular, TalkSPORT). He is painted throughout football as ‘a nice guy’ who has done well considering the constraints put on him by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (previous owner of NUFC).

A friend of mine asked me to sum up Bruce’s tenure at Newcastle United in one word and, after thinking on it for a fair few seconds, I replied: confusing. Everything about the man is confusing.

Steve BruceSteve Bruce’s relationship with the fanbase of Newcastle is toxic. He claims to be ‘one of us’, a local lad who’s a fan of the club he now manages. And yet, in 2009 he made this comment after taking over as Sunderland manager:

‘Managing Newcastle has never been my dream.’

His less than savoury relationship with fans also seems to follow him around wherever he goes:

‘It shows you how difficult it is up here. The mass hysteria, I find some of it pathetic, to be honest.’ Sunderland manager, 2009

‘Of course here, at a club like ours, it turns into mass hysteria. A couple of bad results and all of a sudden it’s the end of the world again.’ Aston Villa manager, 2017

‘We had a bad week, and some of the mass hysteria in my opinion was unjust, unfair and a lot of it was not right in my opinion.’ Newcastle manager, 2020

That last quote came from losing to a weakened Brentford side in the Carabao Cup in December 2020 and then losing again 2-0 to Manchester City in the league. Hysterical. He has not endeared himself to the NUFC fanbase in the slightest, which you would think would be easy for him, considering he’s ‘one of us’. But then again, Steve Bruce contradicts his boyhood ties with the club constantly.

After losing to (arguably, Bruce’s first love) Manchester United in February 2021, Bruce was caught laughing and joking with the opposing manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, after losing 3-1, being in 17th place at the time, with 8 points from the last 42. And again, after losing 4-1 to Man Utd on Ronaldo’s return in September 2021, Bruce appeared to be caught on camera telling his coach (Jones), ‘We’re f.cking sh.te’.

During the most recent Tottenham Hotspur game, Bruce appeared to be once again caught on camera, telling Agnew, ‘How to stop it? I haven’t a f.cking clue.’ No Steve. You don’t.

In February 2021, after drawing 1-1 with Wolves, Bruce threw players Matt Ritchie, Martin Dubravka, Jamal Lewis and Joelinton under the bus for his own lack of basic on-pitch communication, which led to a training ground bust up. Blaming others is a trait he has, having constantly and consistently made references to inheriting Rafa Benitez’ squad who were drilled to play a certain formation and style, which Bruce just couldn’t shake (after 2+ years – work-in-progress, eh, Steve?).

On a recent Monday Night Football, pundit Jamie Carragher claimed that Newcastle had a Championship defence. Here’s the goals conceded record over the last five seasons: 17/18 – 47 (Benitez); 18/19 – 48 (Benitez); 19/20 – 58 (Bruce); 20/21 – 62 (Bruce); 21/22 – 19 in 8 so far (Bruce). See the pattern there?

We’ve already conceded 40% of the goals conceded during Benitez’s worst season with us in the PL and that’s with a largely similar defence (Lejeune and Yedlin aside). And these are only a handful of the major talking points.

On a weekly basis, the Toon faithful have had to endure their manager playing down their chances against weaker or similar opposition and talk up the opposing team and manager. After games, they have had to listen to the same old excuses to the point where a regular ‘excuse bingo’ is shared on social media: We dust ourselves down; roll up our sleeves; wasn’t our day; I saw some positives; I don’t remember them having a shot apart from the goal(s); we gave the ball away too cheaply; and the list goes on.

Every week, we have watched Steve Bruce play players out of their natural positions. In his first game in charge, when he substituted on-loan left back, Jetro Willems against Arsenal and deployed him… only Bruce knows where, that was a warning sign of what was to come. Matt Ritchie, ever the professional, has played at left wing-back for most of Bruce’s tenure, despite being woeful in defence (and having Jamal Lewis in the squad). And similarly, Jacob Murphy as right wingback. Isaac Hayden has found himself as a centre back, despite being our best holding midfielder and having two recognised, senior centre backs sat on the bench.

JoelintonJoelinton, who by Bruce’s own admission (18 months after signing him), isn’t a natural striker and is best out wide as a supporting player, is played up front as a lone striker still on occasion. The pacey Miguel Almiron is played as a central midfielder (and left back, right back, centre back, holding midfielder, winger, forward, goalkeeper, ball boy and kit man), barely making it over the halfway line.

Allan Saint-Maximin, more recently, has stepped into the often-injured Wilson’s boots as the central striker, despite being our most creative player and having a natural finisher like Dwight Gayle on the bench. He has registered four goalkeepers this season: Dubravka; Darlow; Gillespie and Woodman. This was due to Darlow and Dubravka being injured – but Darlow returned to action two to three weeks after registration and Dubravka is back training. His relationship with injuries is also confusing. Wherever he goes, there seems to be an injury crisis:

‘I messed up. I played too many players who weren’t match fit or were only half-fit.’ Wigan, 2009

‘I’ve been in the game some 30-odd years now and I don’t think I’ve ever known anything like this, we’ve probably got eleven (out injured), we’ve just got to get on with it, but I’ve never known anything like it.’ Sunderland, 2011

‘Too often we’ve got big players out who we’ve paid big money for and there is the problem.’ Hull, 2015

‘It’s b.llocks but what can you do? It (the injury crisis) is what it is. It’s your world’s worst but what can you do? You have to get on with it.’ Aston Villa, 2017

‘When you see the problems the club have had, it is really obscene.’ Sheffield Wednesday, 2019

And we had our own crisis over the festive and winter periods last season.

His managerial record is also damning. Being the worst Premier League manager with over 200 games to his name and third overall worst is quite the achievement over 1000 games.

At the Newcastle helm, he has won 29, drawn 25, lost 43, conceded 164 and scored 125. He’s deployed multiple formations: 5-4-1; 5-3-2; 5-1-3-2; 4-4-1-1; or whatever you want to call them, as Steve put it so eloquently himself. But then again, Bruce is such a master of his craft, he doesn’t do tactics (how dare Guardiola, Klopp and Zidane deploy such reckless ideas).

During this season alone, no Premier League side have let in more goals, we concede the highest xG at 13.92, allowed 115 shots in the 7 matches before Spurs, have the most goals conceded at 19, with a goal difference of -9. No wins in 8 games despite playing teams in 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th place currently. According to Trevor Sinclair, it’s not about popularity, it’s about results…

Newcastle United fans are beaten with the stick of 12th place last season having done just as well as Rafa (despite Benitez finishing 10th with a newly promoted side, but hey, who needs research when you get to talk on a radio station or sit in a comfy studio chair for money?).

Let’s take a look at the 2020-21 season with just a touch, nay, the slightest of detail. Specifically, that 12th place finish. Between December and April, Newcastle went on a run of 2 wins in 19 games (2 in 21 all competitions), with 6 draws in that run. We were saved by a loan signing in the guise of Joseph Willock, who was a revelation towards the end of the season, leading to a permanent move to the Magpies. The last game of that season, we faced an already relegated Fulham side. Win, lose or draw, depending on other teams’ results, we could have ended up anywhere between 11th and 17th. We were lucky results went our way for us to finish as high as we did.

The media also like to bleat on about the financial constraints Bruce has had to work under. In Bruce’s tenure, he has had a net spend of £125m (glad he didn’t have to pay that himself, eh, Rio?). In the previous 12 years, all of the Newcastle managers combined have had £30m net spend. He has broken the transfer record with Joelinton at £40m and then used him out of position and without support, smashing his confidence into smithereens. This summer, he added Willock to his roster.

Despite multiple calls for his resignation throughout his job at our (and what should be his) beloved club, he has stated several times he doesn’t walk away (despite walking away from numerous jobs he’s had). You would think, if you were constantly criticised for your managerial approach, your style of play, and, mostly importantly, your record, you would realise you aren’t the person for the job. And you would do what’s best for your club. Even Souness has the stones to do that.

This Steve Bruce appointment as Newcastle manager felt like a last stab in the back from our previous owner. We paid £4m to buy out his contract from Sheffield Wednesday and will have to pay a further £8m to cancel his contract now. This, it appears, is the sticking point, as he is reportedly unwilling to walk away with anything less than 100% of that payout. I expected nothing less.

This past week has shown Bruce’s character, and if the masses still don’t understand, here’s what happened. Our new owners released a statement identifying Bruce as the manager for the Spurs game on the weekend, despite rumours in the newspapers of his impending dismissal. The new owners reiterated that Bruce has been nothing but professional and has given his all for the Toon. What does Bruce do? Gloat. Goad. Brag that he hasn’t been sacked and then says he hopes the journalists who reported it get a slap. That is the man down to a tee. He is unprofessional, disrespectful and clueless. He’s living on luck and luck alone.

I think, this sums up the media’s attitude to Bruce as well as anything. Recently, on TalkSPORT, the intelligent and articulate Danny Mills, legend of the game that he is, ranted on about how Bruce had done a fantastic job at Newcastle and was a really good manager. Then, when asked if Bruce would get another Premier League job after his time was up at the Toon, Mills grimaced and said, ‘Not sure. Maybe Burnley, Brighton, Norwich maybe.’ So, he was good enough for Newcastle United Football Club and should be given a chance with the now richest club in the world but would struggle to get a job after.

Steve Bruce will not be missed at Newcastle United. However, considering he is loved across the footballing nation (other than fans) then we expect to see him in a new role soon. Considering his managing prowess, I look forward to watching Newcastle play his Real Madrid team in the Champions League in the not too distant future. Or even at his beloved, Manchester United, where Ole’s struggling currently. Only one man for the job, I think.

Steve Bruce Ole Gunnar SolskjaerNewcastle United Football Club may not be a successful club lately. And, because of this, we’re not classed as a ‘big club’. This takeover will transform us into what we should be and what our fans deserve. We will have success again and for those who are claiming that money is the only reason for it, they’re right, it is, but you need money nowadays. To say that Man Utd, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs (thanks to Bale money) and now Leicester have got to where they are on pure graft and academy players is a myth. Leicester aside (whose regime commands respect), the other six have bought their success (sorry, I redact Spurs from last list – they haven’t won a league since 1961 and call themselves ‘super’). Newcastle had more league titles and FA Cups than Chelsea and Man City before their takeovers (don’t tell Jason Cundy that though, he doesn’t like it). Prior to our previous owner, we had been relegated less times than Manchester United. But history doesn’t count nowadays. They don’t think of us as big anymore. Just wait.

A last note to Steve Bruce, if he reads this: Now is the time for you to go.

In the previous owner’s reign of terror, never have I been more thankful to see the back of a manager. We’ve suffered through Kinnear, Allardyce, Pardew, Carver and McClaren, but you have been the worst. At least the others respected us to some degree. I thank you for trying because anyone who puts themselves in the manager role deserves it, but you have failed in almost every basic aspect of being a manager, let alone of your own club. You will not be remembered as the manager who managed his 1000th game with us, rathe, we’ll only think of you as the last remaining dark spot on what has been a horrific 14 year stay from the Dark Lord. You will be forgotten.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Steve. I’ll gladly hold it open for you.

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