NEWCASTLE: Thirteen days. Having waited 27 months for new beginnings at Newcastle United, manager Steve Bruce hung onto his job for less than two weeks of the Saudi-financed era at St. James’ Park.
The club’s new owners — the Saudi Public Investment Fund, RB Sports and Media, and PCP Capital Partners — have confirmed Bruce as the first major casualty of a fresh era of hope on Tyneside.
It was a decision roundly welcomed, even celebrated by the Newcastle faithful. Not quite as vociferously as the takeover itself, of course.
Bruce, who took charge of his 1,000th professional game as a manager last Sunday, is one of the most experienced coaches in the history of English football but has proven a divisive figure at United.
Why? Arab News spoke to prominent Newcastle United fan Alex Hurst, a True Faith fanzine podcast host, organizer of the pre-takeover 1892 Pledge supporter fighting fund scheme to buy a percentage of the club, and board member of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, to find out.
He said: “Bruce is very much seen as a Mike Ashley (Newcastle United’s former owner) apologist. He’s built this picture, a narrative that he’s never been wanted or accepted at Newcastle United — but that’s just not true. People did not think it was a positive move replacing (former Newcastle manager) Rafa Benitez with Bruce, but no one wanted him to fail.
“He should have seen this as an opportunity to manage this great football club but instead he painted a picture of it being the impossible job. And it proved to be that way for him, but that has nothing to do with fan criticism or expectation. Bruce built this view of himself — that he was unpopular — and he let it fester,” he added.
For Bruce, the facts do not lie.
United sit 19th in the table, with no wins from eight Premier League games, and have the worst defensive record in the division with 19 goals conceded.
The former Manchester United skipper, who managed Sheffield Wednesday prior to working at hometown club Newcastle, left the Magpies with a win percentage of just 27.4 percent in the top flight.
The low point of his spell came last season when he oversaw a run of just two wins in 21 matches between December and February, but somehow held onto his job.
“Newcastle were a team with one of the best defensive records when he took over — now they are the worst,” Hurst said.
“The style of football is worse. Players have regressed, no one has improved. He talked fans down, players down. He then talked opposition players up at every opportunity.
“On a number of occasions Bruce had the chance to use his time at Newcastle as an opportunity. Each time he failed. In the summer of 2020, the FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City, a chance of a first semi-final since 2005, it was a surrender at home, and yet he smiled ear to ear after the game,” he added.
Hurst highlighted the Carabao Cup quarter-final loss against Brentford last year as a huge, missed opportunity when Bruce played a weakened team against an also weakened Championship side.
He said: “But the thing that sticks with me from Bruce’s time is when he called criticism from fans ‘mass hysteria.’ He seemed to conflate criticism with abuse. Genuine criticism from fans was labelled abuse as he didn’t seem big enough to take it.
“Bruce could not rise above any of this, and it defined his time as head coach.”
Meanwhile, the club have confirmed assistant boss Graeme Jones, who acted as one of Gareth Southgate’s coaches for England’s run to the Euro 2020 final in the summer, will face the media on Friday ahead of Newcastle’s trip to Crystal Palace the following day.
Jones was a surprise appointment to the Newcastle coaching setup in February, as the club’s hierarchy attempted to kick-start an ultimately successful fight against relegation.
However, it is not expected that Jones will remain in the role for too long, as United’s football recruitment working group continues to press on with plans to appoint Bruce’s successor.
Paulo Fonseca is the bookmakers’ favorite for the job, and Arab News understands the Portuguese coach has been in negotiations with Newcastle chiefs since before the confirmation of Bruce’s departure.
Swiss former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre is another understood to have been spoken to, as is Eddie Howe, formerly of AFC Bournemouth. Howe has been a regular visitor to northeastern England in recent months and is understood to have been on Tyneside this week.
Howe turned down the chance to manage Scottish Premiership giants Glasgow Celtic last summer, despite weeks of negotiations with the Hoops’ chiefs.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez is also thought to be a candidate, while Glasgow Rangers’ Steven Gerrard, and former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, are reportedly liked by key figures within the new United hierarchy.
Newcastle are also keen to appoint a sporting director, with Luis Campos and Ralf Rangnick believed to be under consideration. Netherlands and Arsenal hero Marc Overmars is another name in the frame.