Let’s start with this. Gary Neville is a very good pundit.
The former Manchester United defender is widely considered one of the most knowledgeable and incisive pundits currently out there, and he is certainly a rose amongst thorns when it comes to the other Sky Sports “experts”. I’m sure I don’t have to name names here.
While this week has seen Steve Bruce’s managerial ability and performance as Newcastle manager rightly, and finally questioned in some quarters of the more enlightened media, there was still the obvious and ignorant lack of fact researching, and subsequent defence of Bruce to contend with.
This has become common place for Newcastle fans under Bruce. Personally speaking, what used to provoke an urge to hoy the remote through the TV has been replaced by a simple smirk and a roll of the eyes.
However, it’s the usually reliable Neville who surely wins the award for this weeks most ridiculous, and potentially TV replacing comment.
Here it is, and strap yourself in if you’ve yet to hear it. On last nights Monday night football, during which we saw another clueless and pathetic submission in the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal, Neville was discussing the pressure Bruce is under and the vitriol from fans. This line in particular stands out.
“I think looking for differences between Benítez and Steve Bruce… I don’t see any difference because the key thing for me in football is points.
“Last season, Steve Bruce got 44 points. He’s matched him for points.
“What Rafa had was great PR and he had a great rapport with the fans because he stuck with the club and got them out of the Championship.
“This is not a Steve Bruce problem.”
The irony of this statement is simply eye watering, and frankly downright insulting. Firstly, as usual you’ll notice anyone who tries to defend Bruce can’t do so without bringing up Rafa Benitez.
However, when it comes to PR, in my 30 odd years as a football fan, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a PR campaign quite like the one most Sky Sports, Talksport, and certain BBC pundits have been waging on behalf of Steve Bruce. There certainly hasn’t been a worse manager in Premier League history to get such backing from the media. This of course is a literal truth considering Bruce is indeed the PL’s worst manager when it comes to win percentage.
Maybe, (and stop me if you think I’m venturing way too far outside the box on this one) just maybe, the difference between Benitez’ and Bruce’s standing amongst Newcastle fans, (other than the fact one of them promoted us to and stabilized us in the PL, while the other unceremoniously undoes all that work with a better squad on paper) is the small matter of the difference in their managerial CV’s.
That difference being that one is laden with trophies from 3 of the continents most prominent leagues, as well as the Europa League, as well as the absolute pinnacle of European club football. At the same time the other one, in short, has no trophies, and instead is laden with relegations, 7 resignations from 11 jobs and and the aforementioned worst win percentage in PL history.
Reputation and track record play an important part in all sports, business and indeed life. Good ones inspire confidence, poor ones concern, yet our logical approach to this situation is used as a stick to first paint us with as big, bad, ungrateful and deluded ogres, then beat us with.
In fairness to Gary Neville, when he came though the ranks at Manchester United, Steve Bruce was the captain, so I understand and respect his admiration for Bruce as a player, mentor and club legend of his boyhood team, but surely some objectivity is needed during his punditry.
He also discussed the points accrued by both as Newcastle manager being similar.
Oh this old chestnut, why does it appear only Newcastle fans are able to apply logic to this argument?
Logic being that, the points total SHOULD be way more favourable to Bruce than it is, given the fact that not only are the players more experienced now, but more importantly, Bruce has spent the highest net spend of any manager in Newcastle’s history! Bruce is making the solid and organised mid table team Benitez left steadily worse despite spending what is a fortune for Mike Ashley’s reign. That is a fact.
There is no logical, or factual defence of Bruce’s performance against Benitez. Those that exist are simply ignorant, boring and ultimately incorrect.
That brings us nicely onto another of Bruce’s former Manchester United colleagues, Dion Dublin.
Dublin was one of the other guests when George Caulkin was asked on Mark Chapman’s show to discuss the mounting pressure on Steve Bruce. Dublin seemed to dismiss the claims that Bruce gets protection from his media pals, just after talking about his friendship with Bruce, and then defiantly said that he was adamant Bruce would get it right given time. To be so confident that time is all Bruce needs, when his managerial career shows an unequivocal and 100% certain decline in results over time, is fanciful at best. Maybe we all need mates like Dion Dublin.
This is what indeed it is to be a Newcastle fan circa 2021. Watching a proven failure of a manager do as he’s done for 20 odd years, while people who watch us less than us, tell us we’re wrong. For many of us it invokes more passion than actually watching the team play which is tragic in itself.
One day we’re all going to laugh that Steve Bruce was once our manager. Let’s just pray the lasting damage isn’t too serious.