Let’s be clear. Steve Bruce is a third-rate manager. He is an out-of-date troglodyte, who has never knowingly seen a round hole without putting a square peg in it, and who is utterly incapable of getting a tune out of a squad that is stronger than any which his predecessor ever had. His experience manifests itself not as wisdom or gravitas, but as intransigence and thin-skinned insecurity.
He was hired because our owner behaves like an alcoholic gambling addict in the advanced throes of a mid-life crisis, who – to put it mildly – has no interest in Newcastle United being upwardly mobile. Nobody captures the zeitgeist of the Ashley era quite like Bruce, an ersatz manager for an ersatz football club which does little more than exist, joylessly making up the numbers.
Ashley and Bruce are made for each other. They even look similarly mis-shapen, processed pork and mass-market lager having done their dastardly work. Ashley only ever wants two things from his manager: he wants a relegation scrap each year (problem gamblers love a bit of jeopardy), and he wants a useful patsy to act as a lightning rod for supporter discontent. Bruce delivers on both fronts – particularly the second, thanks to his reliably bovine responses to reasonable questions.
— NUFC Supporters Trust (NUST) (@nufctrust) August 29, 2021
And yet, even though Ashley and his minions adore Bruce, and see – in his rank awfulness as a manager – a blissful synergy with their own gammon-fisted notions of running a football club, even they must recognise that he cannot go on forever. Better never stops, as they say at Castore right before boil-washing the training bibs in battery acid. The task for the club’s hierarchy is two-fold: firstly, and most importantly, they need to be in control of the process and timeline for Bruce’s departure, and, secondly, they must identify the right candidate to replace him, and be in a position to install that preferred candidate – and nobody else – when Bruce goes.
The club must absolutely avoid the situation which led to Bruce being appointed in the first place, namely, a manager leaving before the chosen successor has been lined up. When Benitez quit, the club was totally unprepared, and ended up replacing him with someone who was, famously, their eleventh choice. Bruce, despite having subsequently delighted his employers almost as much as he has infuriated fans, was only marginally ahead of Elmer Fudd and Princess Anne on the shortlist as it was in 2019.
Just as it was entirely foreseeable that Benitez would leave, it is not impossible to imagine Bruce wanting to leave of his own volition. He is sixty (and not a young sixty). He has noambition or positivity (as demonstrated by the way in which he repeatedly talks down our chances with a world-weary sigh, as if he was the overburdened manager of a rabble of non-league clodhoppers and not the moderately talented players he actually has at his disposal). He is back home – as the charcutiers of the Tyne Valley will gladly attest – and this is his last job in football. He will retire upon leaving Newcastle United, and might understandably be keen to do so on his own terms.
TF RT'd this before the weekend but think it is now worth promoting again and encourage anyone who has been a victim of homophobic or racist abuse to report it and bring to the attention of an organisation set up to deal with it #NUFC https://t.co/bZ14gaA2p3
— True Faith: Newcastle United Fanzine and Podcast (@tfNUFC) August 30, 2021
While resignation (in the purest, most principled sense of departing without seeking any payment – like the matchless Kevin Keegan did with England) is a quaint anachronism nowadays, it is not hard to envisage Bruce either agreeing to leave when his contract expires, or alternatively (if still under contract) reaching a form of negotiated exit with the club, wherebyboth parties can characterise the departure in the way that they want, and he may agree to accept a lower payoff than if he were to be sacked.Bruce’s every act as manager, and his every imbecilic utterance, suggests a man who would rather be sitting at home drinking pints of custard straight out of the fridge and watching The Chase on ITV4, than preparing his team for a midweek visit to Turf Moor.
Ashley – though he may want the Bruce Age to last forever – needs to be prepared for its inevitable end. If the club has any gumption at all, they will already be sounding out the next manager.
I don’t know who that next manager should be. But what I do think (and I know it is not without risk – we could very easily go down this season), is that we should be careful not to hastily remove Bruce simply because there are other candidates currently available who, were this a game of Top Trumps, would be slightly less weak cards than him. Jones? Wilder? Howe? Van Bronckhorst? Pearson? Villas-Boas? Lampard? Are they better managers than Bruce? Perhaps, yes.
Would there be a new manager bounce if one of them came in? Again, perhaps, yes. But that doesn’t mean it is worth sacking Bruce for any of them. Bruce is probably a 2/10 manager (at best). But are any of these other managers higher than a 5/10? Do they have anything to commend them other than being available, and not being Steve Bruce? Not really. I don’t want us wasting money on paying off Steve Bruce’s contract, just to appoint an uninspiring, mediocre manager in place of an abysmal one. The only winners would be the greasy spoons of Hexham, and a few lawyers.
No, this is a decision that does not come around that often, and is too important not to get right. We need to appoint the best man for the job, and not just choose from those who would be desperate to have it. The club’s hierarchy need to ask the right questions. What would the individual’s motivations be? What do they have to prove, and what would drive them? How would they fit at Newcastle, and why would they want to manage here? Roberto Martinez has worked with Graeme Jones, has a point to prove in the Premier League, is still young and hungry to succeed in club football, and has an affinity with the North of England. Maybe that means he’s a good fit.
— NUFC Supporters Trust (NUST) (@nufctrust) August 30, 2021
Or the club could think beyond obvious candidates (who on earth would have predicted Bielsa going to Leeds?) and look at who might fit the club’s brand and profile. We’re certainly not European royalty, but we are a proud club, with a distinct identity, from a provincial city with a passionate fanbase.
Benitez got that. He loved us, and we loved him back. Is it any surprise that he was a better fit at Valencia, Liverpool, Napoli and Newcastle, than at either Chelsea or Real Madrid? Who are the managers who succeed in the goldfish bowls of football, and thrive on the pressure and emotion that comes with it? Who are the other clubs like us? Real Betis? Schalke? Feyenoord? How do those clubs make their recruitment decisions? Which managers have succeeded at those clubs, and might be tempted by the challenge here?
I don’t have the answers, but – if Ashley, Charnley and the rest have any clue what they’re doing – they should be pulling together those questions, and sounding out their preferred candidate now. If they haven’t done so, “Bruce Out” – despite its obvious appeal as a rallying cry for all of us who are sick and tired of his anti-football, his rank incompetence, and his desperate patter – will remain a hollow cry.
YOUSEF HATEM – @yousef_1892