Steve Bruce to Newcastle United gets Toon Army’s blood boiling - Ross Gregory
There’s a reason why Andy Carroll is continuously linked with a move back to St James’s Park every transfer window.
In the case of Steve Bruce, however, the blood is not just pumping among the Toon Army...it's positively boiling.
The move by owner Mike Ashley to bring Bruce ‘back home’ has not gone down well with the Newcastle faithful, it’s safe to say.
Rafa Benitez was idolised by large swathes of the fanbase. Benitez was seen as the antithesis of Ashley, the Sports Direct tycoon whose controversial reign on Tyneside has become synonymous with the low-cost, cheap offerings of his other businesses.
The Spaniard saw the potential of a club still attracting 52,000 fans through the turnstiles every home game despite not having won a domestic trophy since 1955, and wasn’t shy in telling the fans so.
Benitez had been a ray of light at Newcastle. A manager of supreme tactical nous and global standing, someone who had twice beaten Barcelona and Real Madrid to La Liga titles, who had guided an ordinary Liverpool side to a stunning Champions League win, was now plying his trade at St James’s Park. His coaching and man-management abilities had ensured a limited, but hard-working group of players had twice survived in the Premier League while turning in a transfer profit for his employer.
Filling the Spaniard’s carefully polished shoes is no easy task. United were linked with several big names. Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger were always non-starters despite the speculation, but there was a hope that the Magpies would bring in a young, hungry, talented coach who would be willing to work within the stringent conditions that Benitez quite clearly wasn’t prepared to suffer.
There was absolutely no desire among the supporters to see Bruce take the reins, and nor should there have been.
Even at a club where bizarre appointments - Joe Kinnear plucked from retirement, Alan Pardew from League One obscurity, Steve McClaren from another sacking - are the norm, no one saw Bruce on the radar other than Ashley and managing director Lee Charnley.
It’s not that Bruce is a bad manager. At Championship level, he is a very good operator, having guided Birmingham City and Hull City to promotion on four separate occasions.
When Sheffield Wednesday came calling, it looked like the ideal fit for both parties.
Unfortunately, his Premier League record is less impressive. While his time at Wigan Athletic can be seen as a success, and he led Hull to an FA Cup final, he also has a couple of relegations on his CV.
His spell at Sunderland ended badly with his one-dimensional style of play and strange team selections angering the faithful much more than any perceived Geordie connection. He was battered 5-1 at St James’s Park in a Halloween derby nightmare and while he took the Mackems to 10th in 2010, by the time his spell at the Stadium of Light was up they were just a point off the drop zone.
The style of play and tactics have blighted Bruce on numerous levels. He was criticised for a lack of identity at Aston Villa after failing to get the most expensive Championship team in history promoted.
While being an avid 4-4-2 enthusiast does not necessarily equate to being a football dinosaur, Premier League football has evolved so much in the last few years that his appointment is unlikely to have Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or even Ralph Hussenthal quaking in their boots.
There is not another top-flight club that would have considered Bruce to be their manager. Leicester have Brendan Rodgers; Bournemouth Eddie Howe; Wolves Nuno Espirito. While these clubs spent bigger than Newcastle, they at least had a world-class manager able to help them compete.
When the players run out for the first game of the season against Arsenal on August 11, Mark Knopfler’s anthemic Local Hero will be blazing out of the St James’s Park sound system. It was a piece of music adopted again by Newcastle after Shearer’s return in 1996 and has remained ever since.
Bruce, a boyhood Newcastle fan, will be hoping his homecoming will have a similar impact but a better comparison could be another ex-Sheffield Wednesday manager, Jack Charlton.
When he was persuaded to take on the job at the team he supported as a lad back in 1984, against his better judgement, he lasted just 12 months before walking out after the fans turned against his style of play.
Bruce won’t even get that long to win over the Toon Army.