Barring an exceptional turn of events, Steve Bruce will very shortly no longer be manager of Newcastle United. His dismissal feels inevitable; indeed, it may have already taken place by the time you read this, or the news might filter through when you get to the next paragraph.
Following this week’s takeover of the Magpies by a consortium led by the Saudi-based Public Investment Fund it quickly became an open secret that Bruce would not be retained, though there are presently mixed reports as to whether he will be afforded the opportunity to reach 1000 games in a managerial capacity when Newcastle entertain Spurs this weekend.
The hosts are 5/2 to prevail this Sunday. With a tremendous atmosphere expected on Tyneside, it could be enough to help turn the tide, if only for 90 minutes.
Unpopular with the fan-base and having presided over a poor and winless start to 2021/22, it could be argued that the veteran gaffer’s position would be bordering on untenable regardless. But now with highly ambitious and, frankly, ludicrously resourced new owners at the helm, with serious intentions of breaking into the sport’s elite, his parking spot at Darsley Park, the club’s training ground, is surely under urgent threat.
Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is set to face the media tomorrow on press conference. There’s still no replacement – #NUFC board working to appoint new manager but want to be 100% sure on candidate before sacking Bruce. ⚪️⚫️ #Newcastle
Talks will continue in the next hours/days.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) October 14, 2021
Bruce’s fortunes have been the matter of much discussion this week, alongside of course the fortunes of PIF that has been estimated to exceed £320 billion. Also filling up the column inches and airwaves we have read and heard much about the ethical concerns in facilitating owners with highly questionable human rights issues to gain control of a Premier League institution, while this has been balanced out by footage of Newcastle supporters celebrating an end to the Mike Ashley era. Lastly, the media and public alike have indulged in idle speculation as to who the north-east giants might sign in seasons to come. Coutinho? Mbappe? Projected elevens have resembled fantasy dream teams.
All of which of course is understandable and legitimate discourse given the sensational nature of a takeover that might transform a leading club beyond all recognition and even change the landscape of English football.
Yet still, there is a crucial aspect to this story that has largely been overlooked, and the diminishment of it is so fundamentally odd that it feels like a modern-day Aesop fable. In this fable a man falls into a hole and on seeing no rope or conceivable way of escape, roots through his pockets in desperate panic. He finds a lottery ticket, one that furnishes him with untold riches, and the man celebrates wildly, phoning up all his friends to tell them of his incredible windfall. He quite forgets that he is dwelling in a dank and dark hole.
After seven games Newcastle United lie second from bottom in the league on a measly three points. No team has conceded more goals and their goal difference is worse than Fulham’s and Sheffield United’s at this stage last term, clubs that were relegated. Ahead of them lies a fierce and prolonged scrap for survival and this must be fought by a woefully under-funded squad of middling quality, who look too often to a brilliant but inconsistent enigma in Allan Saint-Maximin to get them through.
All the money in the world doesn’t alter these plain truths.
Both teams to score is 11/10 and that’s a sensible punt, considering that Spurs have shipped in 10 in their last four games and Newcastle are yet to keep a clean sheet.
For sure, Newcastle’s new-found wealth will improve their circumstances, in the immediate future as well as more substantially in the long-term. Whoever is chosen to replace Bruce — and the names being put forward include Roberto Martinez, Frank Lampard, and Graham Potter — will undoubtedly possess greater managerial acumen to their predecessor and superior tactical chops. A transfer window in January meanwhile offers a priceless opportunity to strengthen in key areas and maybe too, bring in a further brilliant enigma.
Imagine the scenes if they pulled this off…
Philippe Coutinho to Newcastle. Make. It. Happen. 🇧🇷 pic.twitter.com/3Y91SwGR0z
— 90min (@90min_Football) October 12, 2021
Yet, realistically, how much difference can a different man in charge instantly make, or for that matter across his first few months in the dug-out, while attempting to convey his methods to a group of players largely unfamiliar to them? Furthermore, precisely how ‘transformative’ can a single window be, especially with Financial Fair Play hampering Newcastle’s desire to buy their way out of trouble?
Most likely, by and large, it will be the current under-achieving squad who it still falls upon to retain Newcastle’s top-flight status with the takeover — for the time being — a sideshow. In short, the club’s future dreams rest on those who have made the present a grim reality.
John Anderson made 337 appearances for Newcastle over ten years and was part of a cherished side of the Eighties, that saw the likes of Beardsley, Keegan and Waddle light up St James Park. He is uncertain about the collective calibre within a squad whose responsibilities have now heightened far above the mere requirement to ensure survival.
“They showed at the back end of last season that they’ve got the quality to win games,” Anderson told Compare.bet. “They haven’t shown that so far this season. I don’t know whether a new face coming in can get enough out of them between now and January. They need to win four games before January to give themselves a realistic chance. They can then go into the transfer window where I’m sure money will be made available to strengthen and bring in the players that Newcastle needs.”
One player the Magpies will not be looking to upgrade is Saint-Maximin. He is 10/3 to score anytime at the weekend.
Allan Saint-Maximin is THAT good he could still play for Newcastle after they sign everyone in world football.
— Reev (@TheReevHD) October 7, 2021
Jeff Livingstone, a former Editor-in-Chief at the cult site IBWM, is a lifelong match-going supporter. He is more optimistic about Newcastle’s chances, though only marginally so.
“I’ve always felt that there’s enough quality in the squad,” Livingstone told Compare.bet. “The goalkeepers and defenders are at least reasonable and an attacking pool that contains Wilson, Saint-Maximan, Joelinton and Willock should have more than enough to keep the team out of serious trouble.
The issue, and this is why Newcastle fans are so unhappy with Bruce, is that the team is consistently badly set up and invites pressure that it cannot sustain. None of the current playing squad have improved under Bruce, and many have regressed badly (Longstaff and Lascelles especially) since Benitez left. The team often looks confused and, to me at least, seems to really hit a wall at 70 minutes, indicating a deeper issue with fitness.
We may well be rich, but problems run deep that Bruce has neither solved nor improved and if Newcastle don’t have more than 15 points on the board by the turn of the year, I fear it may be too late to turn the season around, regardless of signings.”
In the immediate games leading up to the opening of January’s transfer window, Newcastle must face Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton, all across 17 ridiculously demanding days.
They may go into the window as the wealthiest club in the world. But they may also begin their shopping spree rooted to the depths of the Premier League.