One of the things that I’ve found levelled at Newcastle fans both in the media and by fans of other clubs is that we’re lucky to have Steve Bruce because he has stabilised our club and he is working with a group of Championship players. In fact, Steve would love you to believe that he’s working with a group of Championship players and that we are doing very well in the league because of this “fact”. We are encouraged to look at the context of our situation and then sit down and shut up because of it.
Well, I have taken that encouragement to heart and have decided to take a look at the context of our situation. Maybe we are just a group of Championship players playing above our level and Steve Bruce is a mastermind who is squeezing talent out of dry, lower-league sponges? Maybe we should be thankful for Steve Bruce because without him we would be surely relegated due to his stout, defensive set-up? Maybe we don’t understand the sport that we’ve been watching, loving and suffering since we were small children?
It would not surprise you to know that all of that is codswallop…
The first thing that I did was look up our players and find out about their playing history. I feel it is fair enough to question a player’s ability at times and whether they are good enough for what you need at that moment, but Bruce has been insistent on the line that a ‘nucleus’ of our squad is from the Championship and, to a degree, he’s correct but he fails to mention a few things:
- The Championship season was an anomaly for a good few of those players and they had been playing top flight football beforehand. We were in fact accused at times of having a Premier League squad for the Championship.
- 17 of the 26 man squad (M Longstaff inc.) did not play in the Championship season.
- For every player that did play in the Championship there is now a player equivalent that didn’t, meaning that complete reliance on that player is null.
Have a look at the statistics of our players and their experiences below. You’ll find that a majority of them have either been completely top flight established, top flight established and experienced a blip, or started lower league and worked their way up to top flight:
- Martin Dubravka – Slovakian international and not spent a single season in the Championship.
- Ciaran Clark – One season in the Championship and Republic of Ireland international. He has experienced one relegation with Aston Villa. Paul Dummett – One season in the Championship and Welsh International. He has experienced one relegation with Newcastle.
- Matty Longstaff – 20 years old and only played in the Premier League.
- Fabian Schär – No seasons in the lower leagues except as a youth and Swiss international.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Two full seasons in the Championship at 21 years of age. Regular Premier League player and captain after that with one season in the Championship. Has played 101 games in the Championship with 58 of those being played in youth. To date, has played 115 Premier League games. He has experienced one relegation with Newcastle.
- Andy Carroll – Youth appearance in the Championship on loan to Preston North End and one full season in the Championship for Newcastle. Has appeared in 16 seasons of the Premier League. He has experienced one relegation as a youth player with Newcastle.
- Jonjo Shelvey – Appeared in the lower leagues for three seasons as a youth player before moving to Premier League Liverpool. Spent half a season on loan in the Championship from Liverpool. Has since been a Premier League player apart from one season in the Championship with Newcastle. He has experienced one relegation after half a season with Newcastle.
- Joelinton – Has spent no seasons in a lower league than the top league in the country. Allan Saint-Maximin – Has spent no seasons in a lower league than the top league in the country.
- Matt Ritchie – Risen through the lower leagues until he played in the Premier League in 2015-16 with Bournemouth. Was then purchased as a Premier League player by Championship Newcastle to help with promotion. Promotion was achieved and he has since been a Premier League regular. He has experienced two relegations at a reasonably young age with Portsmouth and Swindon.
- Dwight Gayle – 122 Premier League appearances and 160 lower league appearances. Only 71 of the lower league appearances occurred after becoming a Premier League player when he was purchased by Championship Newcastle from Premier League Crystal Palace, and, when he was loaned to Championship West Brom from Premier League Newcastle.
- Callum Wilson – Played in the lower leagues up until the age of 23 where he has since plied his trade in the Premier League. He has experienced one relegation as a youth player with Coventry and one relegation with Bournemouth.
- Isaac Hayden – Played for two championship teams up until the age of 22 (Hull and Newcastle). Was purchased from Premier League Arsenal by Championship Newcastle. Since his second season in the Championship, he has played four consecutive seasons in the Premier League.
- Jamal Lewis – 22 years old and has been in the Premier League since getting promoted with Norwich. Northern Ireland international. Heavily linked with Liverpool before signing for Newcastle. Experienced one relegation with Norwich.
- Jeff Hendrick – Consistent Championship player until the age of 25 when he signed for Premier League Burnley in the 2016-17 season. Consistent Premier League player since and Republic of Ireland international.
- Emil Krafth – Swedish international who hasn’t played in a lower league team since making his debut aged 17.
- Federico Fernández – Former Argentine International who has only played one game in the Championship for Swansea before being bought by Newcastle United. Has played all but one of his games in the top division of the respective countries. Experienced one relegation with Swansea.
- Javier Manquillo – Hasn’t played in a lower league team since playing for Atlético de Madrid B in his youth. Experienced one relegation on loan to Sunderland.
- Ryan Fraser – Scottish international who moved from Scottish Premier League to League One Bournemouth in his youth. Promoted with Bournemouth to the Championship and then to the Premier League. Spent one season on loan to Championship Ipswich and has now been a consistent Premier League player for 5 seasons. He has experienced one relegation with Bournemouth.
- DeAndre Yedlin – USA international who has spent one season in the Championship after Championship Newcastle purchased him from Premier League Tottenham.
- Jacob Murphy – Spent a majority of his career in the lower leagues on loan and has only spent one full season not on loan in the Championship for Norwich which led to the purchase of him from Newcastle. Experienced two relegations as a youth player with Norwich.
- Miguel Almirón – Paraguayan international who has spent no seasons in a lower league than the top league in the country.
- Karl Darlow – Newcastle’s second choice goalkeeper who is currently playing well enough to be considered first choice. Played in the Championship for Nottingham Forest until moving to Premier League Newcastle. Experienced one relegation with Newcastle as a fringe player and became first choice in the following Championship season. Has been in the Premier League since.
- Mark Gillespie – Third choice keeper. Played consistently in the lower leagues of England before moving to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell. Signed for Newcastle from Motherwell after his contract expired.
- Sean Longstaff – 23-year-old who has played one season in a lower league for Blackpool on loan. Has played in top flight football for Newcastle and Kilmarnock.
So, like myself, you probably are pointing out a few players in that list that you would define as ‘not good enough’, and I certainly have frustrations with players such as Jonjo Shelvey, but I think what can be clearly shown here is that the point of them being defined as “Championship players” isn’t really something that tracks with a majority of them listed here.
All Premier League teams have players that cause frustration and are underwhelming, it’s a fact of footballing life. Also, we definitely have players that wouldn’t stand a chance of reaching a top 6 side but we do have players that have arguably played enough top flight games to be considered a top flight player. A lot of these players were either bought for the Premier League or bought from the Premier League and that fact alone, regardless of personal feelings about ability, firmly dismisses the notion that Newcastle are being squeezed up to unfathomable heights by a Steve Bruce masterplan.
But what of Steve Bruce? He’s been more than keen to tell fans and media how his players are full of effort but don’t have the footballing ability to follow his plans, so what about his managerial ability? If you were to ask any pundit represented by agent, Sharron Elkabas then you would be promptly told that he’s “a top manager”.
I’m going to be kind here and presume that “top manager” refers to being an established Premier League manager and not in the echelons of Klopp or Guardiola, so let’s have a look at a snapshot of his career:
Steve Bruce –
- 2nd July 1998 to 17th May 1999 – Sheffield United – 40% win rate – First Division (Championship) – Failed to gain promotion – Resigned.
- 24th May 1999 to 16th October 2000 – Huddersfield Town – 37.9% win rate – First Division (Championship) – Failed to gain promotion in first season – Sacked the following season.
- 4th April 2001 to 29th May 2001 – Wigan Athletic – – 37.5% win rate – Second Division (League 1) – Failed to gain promotion – Left for First Division Crystal Palace.
- 31st May 2001 to 2nd November 2001 – Crystal Palace – 61.1% win rate – First Division (Championship) – Left less than three months into the season – Left for Birmingham City.
- 12th December 2001 to 23rd November 2007 – Birmingham City – 37.0% win rate – First Division (Championship) – Won the play-offs to gain promotion to Premier League – 4 seasons in the Premier League before relegation – Gained automatic promotion from Championship – Left for Wigan Athletic.
- 26th November 2007 to 3rd June 2009 – Wigan Athletic – 33.8% win rate – Premier League – Two seasons of safety – Left for Sunderland.
- 3rd June 2009 to 30th November 2011 – Sunderland – 29.6% win rate – Premier League – 2 and half years as manager (including a winless run of 14 games in his first season) – Sacked by Sunderland.
- 8th June 2012 to 22nd July 2016 – Hull City – 40.8% win rate – Championship – Automatic promotion from Championship – Relegated after two seasons in the Premier League – Won promotion via play offs – Resigned before Premier League started.
- 12th October 2016 to 3rd October 2018 – Aston Villa – 45.1% win rate – Championship – Failed to succeed despite significant spend – Sacked by Aston Villa.
- 1st February 2019 to 15th July 2019 – Sheffield Wednesday – 38.9% win rate – Championship – Managed 18 games – 38.9% win rate – Left for Newcastle United.
- 17th July 2019 to Please God, Make It Stop – Newcastle United – 32.3% win rate – Premier League.
Bruce has managed eleven clubs in total and only three of them have been Premier League teams by time of hiring (Wigan, Sunderland and Newcastle), meaning that he has been employed by eight lower league clubs (72% of his hiring). Fundamentally, this shows that he is valued more and seen as more obtainable by lower league clubs than he is by Premier League clubs.
Newcastle have been the highest placed to team to ever hire Bruce after finishing 13th the season before. Wigan had just finished 17th after hiring Bruce and Sunderland 16th. I will concede that his stock was high enough during his Birmingham career for Newcastle to consider him as a replacement for Bobby Robson but ultimately, that didn’t happen and it was so early in his managerial career that he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to fully show how subpar he is.
He has succeeded in promoting both Hull City and Birmingham City twice but was also a big part of the reason they were put into a position that they had be promoted again (he relegated them).
Despite managing in the Premier League for what is the equivalent of twelve seasons (446 games played, divided by 38 – rounded up from 11.7 to 12), he has only succeeded in breaking the Top 10 twice, with the last occasion being with Sunderland during the 2010-11 season which means that he can be truly defined as a Top 10 manager for 16.6% of his entire Premier League career.
The statistic that we all know and loath of course, is that he has the second lowest win rate in the Premier League next to Bryan Robson.
All of these things are separate from what we can see with our eyes. We know that he’s not a good manager and we know that he’s stealing a living managing us while insulting us, our players and excusing himself but apparently, we’re not worth listening to due to our “histrionics” and the fact that we’re a “vocal minority”.
Well, take solace in the fact that Steve Bruce can’t defeat facts. He and his media friends can lie about them all they want but the facts tell the truth.
So, what’s the takeaway from all these numbers, dates and statistics? Well, at the very least, it proves that the squad players of Newcastle are not simply defined as “Championship players”, it proves that a majority of the Premier League have had no serious interest in hiring Steve Bruce as their manager, and it raises the question of how pundits define “top manager”.
We don’t have a Championship squad, we have a Championship manager.