Steve Bruce’s words mean Newcastle have transcended the meaning of sport

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

William Shakespeare’s work often pondered life’s biggest most existential questions: what does it mean to be moral? What’s life’s meaning? Or even asking what is, as it most laid out above, the human condition? The writer’s deliberations over such complex and almost intangible ideas certainly yield an Infinium of assessments, further reasoning, and conclusions. In sport – and moreover, in football – we are fortunately saved from such trifles, for we already know what the clear definition is. Sport’s founding is almost inevitable given our nature. Its purpose is for us to achieve milestones and to stretch beyond our physical limitations, whether individually or otherwise, and to ultimately strive for more than what we already have.

And yet, in a packed press conference earlier this month at Darsley Park, a slightly rundown complex found some 15 minutes east of Jesmond, Steve Bruce laid out the following.

“I’ve said since I walked through the door two years ago that I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but, with my experience, I hope to keep the club just ticking along, make sure it stays where it is and maintain our Premier League status.”

And just in that moment, in Steve Bruce’s words, Newcastle United transcended sport. The quote revealed, quite plainly, that as a coach, he has not been brought in to offer progress. Read it again. It’s a statement that would horrify any manager, from the non-league upwards. The notion that a sports club should endeavour to maintain its status quo is a recipe that too often sees clubs sink further; there must be the need to push on and challenge – anything else results in regression and defies the entire concept of sport.

To see Newcastle’s draw with Leeds at St James’ as a much-needed point and a crucial match in which the home team stopped the rot is a huge indication of where the club is at. When the bar gets lowered at a club, its own point of normalcy falls with it, and thus 12th-place and 13th-place finishes are seen as a feat rather than what they really are: the bare minimum. It’s why pundits are unable to pick apart Newcastle’s predicament without making sweeping statements.

But Bruce’s failings go beyond league finishes. It’s the style of play, the head-scratching formations and the fielding of players in wrong positions that provide opposition frustrating advantages, while the constant threat of relegation lingers as a constant.

But even in isolation, those poor displays and less-than-adequate finishes, though frustrating, do not amount to the absolute rage that ensures once you hear the manager make comments that show he does not see everything wrong with the current trend, or event that he might implement a course of action to alter the club’s direction.

Both Marcelo Bielsa and Bruce have had a difficult start. The Argentine football manager had to contend with a number of injuries at the back while Bruce has his key goalscorer, Callum Wilson, out on the sidelines. But where one has tried to innovate, putting players in positions they wouldn’t normally have been, the other has replaced the missing goal-getter with a player who can’t find the net. Maybe making such wild mistakes in selection is why Bruce comes across so delighted post-game.

After the 1-1 draw, Marcelo Bielsa, another coach who remains winless this season in the Premier League, spoke about how the intricacies of his side’s tactical failures.

“The construction of the offensive game was good. We had to adapt to a great centre forward like the number 10 [Saint-Maximin]. I think in some way our defensive game was sufficient.

“The results are not great, from 15 points to have only three is too little.”

A few moments later, Bruce was quizzed on the same game, the one where his side took 17 shots compared to Leeds’ 22, and had just 35% possession throughout (Newcastle also had an xG of 1.96; Leeds 2.25).

“It was a fantastic game of football. I was delighted with the response of the team and the way they showed up…[…]…Overall I couldn’t have asked for any more.”

Even by taking the quotes as a microcosm, you can see which boss is more in tune with their respective club, and will ultimately pull them out of the slump.

It’s frustrating to hear a manager miss so badly during the course of a game and then to double down on it in the post-match interview. Bruce’s belief is that survival will suffice in appeasing the fans. He’s wrong. Some supporters would even rather go down in a ball of flames to the Championship under a Bielsa style banzai than see the same sloppy helping of lukewarm sludge every weekend. His words resemble a flushed board member at a new start up not wishing to risk rupturing his solid monthly take home. In that sense, Bruce is the perfect apparatus for a man like Mike Ashley, but both don’t realise that the failsafe option they take will eventually blow up in their faces.

JACQUE TALBOT –  @jac_talbot