Gary Neville, 18th January 2021: “I’m looking for differences between Benítez and Steve Bruce?… I don’t see any difference…”

Like many other Mags fans who have had the opportunity to witness both Raphael Benitez’s and Steve Bruce’s respective versions of NUFC on a weekly basis, I am bored of hearing this.

Bored of Gary Neville, bored of Simon Jordan, bored of Jamie Redknapp and a whole host of other pundits trotting out the same lazy narrative that today’s version of Newcastle United is the same as the one left behind by Raphael Benitez in the summer of 2019.

Let’s be absolutely honest– it is there in plain sights for us all to see – the NUFC squad we see before us today are regressing at a startling rate of knots and unless change is forthcoming soon, we will once again be pitting our wits against the like of Burton Albion, Wycombe Wanderers and the Smoggies (The Mackem’s can only wish)

When analysing why I think NUFC have regressed so rapidly, I was only able to come up with one answer – and this is that the incredible amount of meticulous, detailed groundwork and planning put in place by Rafa, the work that we were REALLY beginning to see bear fruit towards the end of his reign, is slowly but systematically being undone by Steve Bruce.

The Rafa ‘effect’ is fading. And its fading fast

The Rafa ‘effect’ that before our very eyes, improved the capability of the squad as individuals – where once we saw players such as Sean Longstaff, Fabien Schar and Jamal Lascelles looking majestic to the point they were being coveted by ‘The Big 6’, we now see the same players devoid of confidence and looking like they’ve barely kicked a football in their lives before

The Rafa ‘Effect’ that meant every player that lined up for Newcastle United was drilled and coached to within an inch of their life to ensure that they knew the exact role they played as a part of the collective – the team.Fast forward 18 months, and the players that once formed a team widely recognised for their organisation and structure now look like a collection of drunks at a free bar, with performances regularly interjected by players looking to the side-lines as they ask, “What are we supposed to be doing?”

Let me explain whyI firmly believe this regression is down to Steve Bruce…

Rafa’s fiercest critics would unanimously agree that he brought meticulous, detailed planning and a remarkable understanding of the tactical side of the game to NUFC – this resulted in a coaching philosophy thatsawno stone left unturned in his, and consequently the teams preparation. Rafa is renowned for drilling his playersto the point that they are virtually able to fulfil their roles without having to think about what they were doing. It becomes second nature to them.

So, where is the evidence to suggest that this meticulous planning and level of detail is what Rafa brought to NUFC? I’ll leave that to 4 professionals who are paid to know more about the beautiful game than myself…

Paco Herrera (Rafa’s Asst. Manager at Liverpool): “He(Benitez) does not leave any room for improvisation he supervises everything – he has a database containing detailed information – strengths and weaknesses – on over 10,000 players”

Mark Douglas (Chronicle), observing a Benitez coaching session: For 45 minutes, he (Benitez) has been hammering home to his players the importance of body positions and how the way you shape your hip when the opposition have the ball makes a difference…If you anticipate and prime your body, you can shave a second off your response time. It might be crucial.”

Ian Herbert (The Independent): He (Benitez) has compiled detailed information for 30 years on where penalty-takers place their kicks and likes to divide the goal into six numbered sections before telling his goalkeepers precisely where a ball is likely to be struck”

Martin Hardy (The Times), observing Benitez following an NUFC goal: “Perez ran to celebrate, and as the crowd who had barely sat down stood up, Benitez was at the side of the pitch calling over Clark. There was no interest in the celebration. Instead, there was instruction”

Rafa Benitez is, undoubtedly a manager who not only studies, but prides himself on his encyclopaedic understanding of the game.

Now, lets contrast the above, with the coaching philosophy of Steve ‘Nice Bloke’ Bruce – who, following a hugely successful and rightly lauded playing career moved into management with what I would describe as an antiquated, old school ‘I played, therefore I know’ philosophy.

A coaching philosophy that appears to see him believe that it is more important to be the players ‘pal’ than it is to research and formulate a cohesive plan and formation required to overcome the weekends opposition.

A philosophy that sees him believe that it is enough to simply tell players to‘J ust go and enjoy yourselves, the rest will take care of itself’ in the hope that a single piece of flair or skill from a Saint Maximin or a Grealish will be enough to win the day.

Where is the evidence to suggest that this is the coaching philosophy employed by Bruce? Once again, I’ll leave that to the paid professionals…

Ritchie de Laet (Belgian international):“He wasn’t my cup of tea. The football was similar to Tony Pulis but at least Tony Pulis has a plan. I remember Steve would throw the ball into the middle in training and say, ‘Let’s play’, like we were under nines. It was crazy

Mario Melchiot (Dutch International):Look, he does a form of it (coaching) in his own way, but I do believe that there are people, I guarantee you, in his side that don’t understand how he wants to play.”

Michael Chopra (Gobshite):I’ve spoken to some senior players at the club – I won’t mention their names…some of the players don’t know their jobs – they’re not really working on their shape”

Danny Rose (England International):So now I’m at Newcastle and you are getting two or three days off a week if you win…I’m thinking what’s going on here then? It’s a shock to the system”

Consider the above, and ask yourself if you genuinely believe that last season’s 45-point haul was down to Steve Bruce’s coaching philosophy, or, was it down fact that the players were still getting by on theresidual fumes of the meticulous approach and coaching philosophy instilled in them by his predecessor?

I know where my money is.

Sadly, we can all see those residual fumes – aka the Rafa ‘effect’ – are fast becoming a distant memory for the players by the week.

Is it any surprise we are regressing?

Anyway, I’ll leave the last words on this subject to the two men themselves – this may help you decide…

Raphael Benitez: “When I was younger, I was watching eight or ten games every weekend; I was in the car and I was driving to games. In my parents’ house alone I had 1500 videos with three matches on each – I used to analyse the details of every game”

Stephen Roger Bruce:“ ‘I’m not really into tactics”