In Awkward Defence of Steve Bruce

“There he goes, one of God’s own prototypes.” – Hunter S. Thompson.

A prototype indeed. Steve Bruce is gone, and Newcastle United are better for it. Perhaps they will hit the high notes they have been struggling to grasp these past two decades. Even if they do, they must remember those that led them there. For all his faults, Bruce was the man that kept the club’s heart beating. Berated by fans, hated by players, he powered on through with the grace and self-respect few would have for such an uncomfortable position. Mid-table football has been the game of Newcastle United for some years, and Bruce is no better or worse than the men he succeeded.

On paper, his track record is consistent enough to see him reach for a higher position in the league. With a clunky squad and little backing from the previous ownership, he was unlikely to get anywhere higher than the 12th and 13th place finishes he carried out. It was a tough struggle for fans and players, but they got there in the end. Roy Keane recently said of his time at Sunderland that Premier League-level football for teams like Newcastle is “about survival for the first three or four years.” After only two at the helm, Bruce has been sacked as Newcastle United’s head coach.

Frustrations are understandable and inevitable. Newcastle United have had their fair share of management issues, but Bruce, like many that came before him, tried his best with the squad he had. Fans are unlikely to see the words “Jonjo Shelvey” and “Premier League winner” in the same sentence. Bruce wouldn’t change that, nor could any manager preceding or succeeding him. His tenure at Sunderland F.C. likely fuelled some controversy, but there is no doubting the commitment Bruce had to turning the club around.

Tactically unsound is the phrase thrown around often by fans. What tactics can you utilise when you have only a small handful of strong players? Dud signings and a lack of squad depth have left Newcastle United high and dry for years, and the signings Bruce did make have been the fan favourites for the past two seasons. Callum Wilson and Joe Willock spring to mind. Two players who salvaged a rocky-relegation battle in the 2020/21 season to a comfortable finish in 12th, far higher than a squad of this stature should finish. Other signings such as Jamal Lewis, Jeff Hendrick and Freddie Woodman make sense on paper and display the signs of a plan with longevity. It was never going to work.

That clashing desire for immediate results and fan pressure is a tough pill to swallow. Bruce, somehow, dragged Newcastle United to a slightly higher average of finishing places than any other manager has since Alan Pardew and his 5th place masterstroke, a move that still did not temper the minds of fans. Rightly so. Passion should be met with results, but for Newcastle United, it is a matter of needing more time. Money has been spent in the club, and results should occur. It is a great frustration, but every manager goes through rough patches. On paper, Bruce was a solid helmsman for the doomed ship, and the blame is shifted to the man in that role time and time again. Pardew, Steve McLaren and John Carver all pale in comparison to the results Bruce pulled from the club during their darkest period.

But that is water under the crumbling bridge. It does not matter. Bruce is gone, and Newcastle United are better for it. So long as there is a plan in place, Newcastle United will find themselves slipping comfortably into the lower levels of the mid-table skirmish. What more can be done? It is easy to shift the blame to Bruce, but he is a small gear in a wider problem that stretches far beyond anything a manager or team could change. Whoever follows in his footsteps will face the same fate. Whether it is Steven Gerrard or Graeme Jones, Unai Emery or Eddie Howe, the fans will turn eventually. That is the nature of the game, but for Newcastle United, it is the frequency of this outcome that turns the manager and by extension the support, sour.

“I wish everyone the best of luck with the season going forward,” Bruce said in his press statement.

They will need it.

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