Cast your mind back to last year. The club were in a mess, another failed takeover, fans favourite Rafa Benitez has walked away, and Mike Ashley has agreed to pay Sheffield Wednesday some sort of compensation for Steve Bruce, to make the former Manchester United captain manager.
To say the appointment was underwhelming would be a massive understatement. It showed the direction the club wanted to go in. How could we go from a world class manager like Rafa Benitez, and go to Steve Bruce, whose record as a Premier League manager has been mediocre at best.
No-one had any real hopes for Newcastle this season, we were favourites for relegation, no one (including myself) expected us to actually win a game of football. The atmosphere on Tyneside was toxic. But he was the man put in charge, and like it or not, Steve Bruce was the man to try and steer Newcastle into the post Rafa era.
Back to today, it is the morning after Newcastle have soundly beaten relegation threatened 4-1 away from home. A performance many are calling the best of the season, and it seems the Toon Army are still split on Bruce and the season so far. Some are happy to give him credit for the job done, some not so much.
Does Bruce deserve the credit that is coming his way? Or is Newcastle’s current position the least expected from a club our size?
Bruce has come in for some criticism from some quarters this season, and rightly so. The football was awful in large parts, at times players didn’t seem to know what formation or tactics they had to implement, and he didn’t seem to get the ‘5 at the back’ system implemented by Rafa.
However there have been some highs this season, with wins against ‘big’ teams, a decent FA Cup run (admittedly the way we gave up against city was disappointing) and some top performances, with some seeming to coincide with a change in formation.
If we are to criticise Bruce when he deserves it, surely by the same token when he gets it right he should be praised?!
A lot is made of Bruce’s previous Premier League record, but that doesn’t really show the story of this season. With 6 games left, we are looking towards a top 10 finish instead of having to fight for every point just to stay up! We are looking at possibly having one of our best points tally’s of the past 10 years! a time when we have only finished with more than 45 points 4 times.
The team are doing a lot better than many expected, and some of that praise has to be landed at Bruce’s door. Whether some are willing to admit it publicly or not, Bruce and the team are doing better than was expected.
Now for the elephant in the room…the proposed Takeover, and an end to the blighted Ashley years. Is Bruce the man to take us forward into a brighter dawn? Many ‘pundits’ would have us believe he is, and no doubt some of the players would like to see Bruce in the dugout come the new season, whenever that is! The man himself has been asked about this many times since football returned, and has always given the same response, “What ever is best for Newcastle, I’m ok with it.”
There have been improvements to some players, Allan Saint-Maximin just gets better and better, there have been improvements from Joelinton, Hayden has continued to be essential to the midfield, and Manquillo continues his good form, just to name a few. Some of that has to be attributed to Bruce, as he is the one working with them day-in day-out. However would some of the players we have been ‘linked’ with want to play for a Steve Bruce type manager.
Sometimes you get the feeling players sign for the manager, and not necessarily the stature of the club. Could a manger like Rafa, Pochettino or even Allegri attract better players than Steve Bruce, you would have to say yes.
That doesn’t take away from the positives that Bruce has. He is undoubtably a decent man manager, and it shows that the players are playing for him. It is very rare he has a bad word word to say about anyone in his squad, and publicly at least will defend them to the hilt. Is that enough though…you would have to say no.
I personally have a lot of time for Steve Bruce as a person. He comes across as a really likeable bloke, probably why he has so many ex-players and journalist’s who will defend him, and who he can class as friends.
I like many other fans, if not all, was a little disappointed when he was given the hottest after Rafa, but credit where it is due, he has done better than many of us expected.
Going forward with a takeover, I don’t honestly believe he is the man to take us to that next level. He has however kept us at a level footing, if not improved on that, and would leave a decent foundation on which to build. I firmly believe that the incoming owners will want to build a squad that will compete with the Liverpool’s and Manchester City’s of world football, and a manager of the calibre of Poch or Rafa is more likely to attract the players needed.
I’m not sure whether Bruce would accept it, but I would like to see him stay at the club in some capacity, and would even like him to be involved with the academy. He would know the standard needed to make that step up to the first team, and has shown in the past he has an eye for young talent (Maguire, Robertson, McGinn).
For me we are quick enough to criticise when he gets it wrong, but we need to be just as quick to praise when it is due. Whether you like him or not, this season could have been a lot worse, and we did expect it to be! But without Bruce steering the ship in the right direction, and doing a half-decent job, we would be looking forward to Championship football next season, and another decade of Mike Ashley!