Comment: His boyhood club it may be, but the timing is all wrong for Steve Bruce at Newcastle
It’s no secret that while booting a tired football around the streets of Corbridge as a boy, Steve Bruce will have dreamed of nodding it past a sprawling away goalkeeper at the Gallowgate End.
And reflecting on an illustrious playing career that saw him lift three Premiership titles, three FA Cups and a European Cup Winner’s Cup, you’ve got to wonder whether his biggest regret is never having pulled the black and white stripes of Newcastle United.
It’s a club of rich heritage, of Super Macs, Milburns and Shearers. The only phrases that arrive with more regularity than that of a ‘vacant manager’s post’ in that football-obsessed city are the adage that ‘whoever gets it right up there will be a football immortal’ and, of course, supporter choruses of ‘Ashley Out’.
And therein lies the problem for Bruce, who yesterday travelled home to discuss the terms of his now likely ascension to the Newcastle United manager’s hotseat.
Everyone knows a Newcastle fan or two, and so we all appreciate the fact that the football club painted in the mind’s eye of young Bruce on those Tyneside backstreets is of course a pale reflection of the one we see today. Fan protests are a weekly event, the vitriol that whistles through the stands roundly justified after over a decade of decay overseen by Mike Ashley a depressing reality of Tyneside life.
Softly-spoken Geordie or not, Rafael Benitez’s replacement was always going to inherit a Newcastle United in unchartered turmoil. And speaking to a writer for the club’s most-read fanzine, the feeling is that it might be worse than those outside the city could imagine.
“If he really does want that job he wants his head looking at,” said Jamie Smith, who has written for The Mag for over two decades, “having come through what he went through at Villa, where he started to turn the club around, to the job he’s doing at Wednesday, Newcastle United is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Regardless of who the manager is, this season, Jamie said, will more than likely see the club relegated. Supporters have already launched a boycott of the Magpies’ opening home match against Arsenal, and following the halcyon calm of Benitez’s impressive reign, anger levels have been turned up to 11.
His status as a former Sunderland manager is dwarfed by the fact that to the overwhelming majority of Newcastle fans, his appointment would be seen as uninspiring in the extreme, a return to a Sports Direct model of ‘buy low, sell high’ that is content with making do and to hell with the consequences.
“From the outside looking in, Sheffield Wednesday look like they are a real contender for promotion,” Jamie said, “fast forward 12 months and Bruce is back in the Premier League with fans that love him.
“There is a feeling at Newcastle that people don’t actually care who the manager is. I don’t think it makes a difference, the football club is broken.”
For Sheffield Wednesday, Bruce’s exit would represent a trip back to the drawing board. If he is to glance up at empty stands on his first day in the St James Park dugout next month, you wonder how long it will be before Bruce is stood in front of it himself.