It’s a line you hear a lot as a Newcastle fan at the moment and it tends to refer to our beleaguered head coach. He get’s the club. It was touted by many in the media as a good reason why he should be appointed, why he would succeed in the job. But what does it mean to ‘get the club’?
Of course no-one who ever proclaims Steve ‘gets the club’ ever explains what they mean by it. I assume, based on their other utterings, it’s some vague pablum about history, tradition, passion, unrealistic fans yada yada yada. The kind of lukewarm bullshit that could be applied to dozens of clubs all over the world. For most national pundits we will forever be the Newcastle of August ’96. The team that just finished second when they should have won. The fans demand a title challenge, they expect to blow teams away with carefree attacking football.
For sure the men in charge then ‘got the club’ but not because they wouldn’t shut up about the glory days of ’69 but because they talked about the glory days to come. They put the clubs abysmal recent history behind them, wiped the slate clean and aimed ahead. The owner had ambition and, for the time, deep pockets he was willing to dip into. The manager had ambition and an innovative style of football that took the leagues by storm. We also had a stadium and a training ground that were comfortably within the expected parameters of elite level football at the time. But they didn’t sit on them. The previous owner expanded the stadium to make it one of the best in Europe because that’s what he wanted the club to aspire to be. A fitting stage on which to beat Barcelona in the Champions League. It’s exactly what Tottenham have done in the last 12 years and last season they were the second best team on the continent.
Because that’s what Newcastle United is ultimately, and what I would argue Steve and Mike don’t ‘get’. It is an elite sporting institution, as are all 20 Premier League clubs by definition. We are the nineteenth richest club, in the most competitive league of the worlds most popular sport. And we are there by right. Not because we fluked some lottery. Not because of some protected status. But because, under the previous manager, we won the division below, and earned our place at the top table of club football. The previous manager got the club. He got that at the very highest level a sporting institution has to have confidence, direction and purpose. That the very best athletes in the world, in 2019, be they footballers, cricketers or netballers, need a highly specialised environment to achieve their, and the club’s potential. Marginal gains as the cyclists would say.
In the 90’s it was still common for the likes of Steve Bould to line up 35 pints on the bar for him and four team mates the day before a game. If the opposition only had six pints each they had an edge. Those days are gone. The other teams aren’t hungover anymore. They exist in environments geared towards excellence. Nutrition, psychology, recovery and in some of the better ones, community building. There is a unified coaching set up from the under 7’s to the first team so players make their debut knowing what their role is, knowing what’s expected of them. Vast networks of scouts looking not just for the best players, but the players who will best fit the overall philosophy.
Unless of course your opponents are in black and white. In which case the medical room is a converted squash court, the lads have been sat in an inflatable paddling pool all afternoon and Graham Carr has spotted another French number 10 he likes the look of on Youtube. Oh, and the U23’s have just been battered 6-0 by Reading.
Getting the club is about understanding what the club lacks, not what it has. It’s about being truthful about it with the fans and putting a plan in place to improve. That’s what the previous manager did, that’s why the fans liked him and why the players respected him. He was honest and articulate. The club needs to drastically modernise it’s facilities and infrastructure. It needs to invest more in the playing squad to remain competitive and it needs to communicate better with the fans. That was ‘The Project’. That was the vision of the club he sold. It wasn’t a stepping stone, an advertising hoarding or a rag tag gang of misfits from a footballing backwater coming up to park the bus and maybe give one of the big boys a bloody nose before disappearing back into the depths of the football league. It was an elite, professional outfit with a long term plan to get better.
At his unveiling Steve Bruce said he was ‘going to have a good crack at this job’. I knew then he didn’t get it. It’s what you or I would say if we’d won a competition to manage NUFC for a day. A few days later Steve forgot, or worse deemed it unnecessary, to put a central midfielder on the bench against Arsenal. After the Norwich game The Chronicle may as well have been on the plane with the team as they pretty much had a minute by minute of the conversation from the players. The squad discipline had totally evaporated after two competitive matches. Every game the players seemingly have to ask the manager what is going on or deem it appropriate to tell him it’s pointless publicly as they trudge off.