A day after our complete an utter capitulation in that 5-0 defeat at Leicester in September 2019, we posted the following video on Twitter:
This was a snippet from our 2-1 win at the King Power Stadium under Rafa Benitez back in April 2018 – and I genuinely think we made more tackles in 23 seconds here than we have in our last three league games combined.
It was a performance brimming with grit, passion, tackles and team work – something that was anything but evident in our 5-0 hammering at Leicester last season, our embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United last week or 3-0 beating at Arsenal on Monday night.
It wasn’t always pretty under Rafa, but it feels as relevant as ever to bring clips like this back to the surface when the likes of Gary Neville stated on Monday night that the only difference between the jobs Bruce and Benitez are doing is the latter had a ‘good PR team’.
That is wrong on so many levels, but one thing is insults is the sheer togetherness that existed between a Rafa Benitez side battling to push for a spot in the top 10 back in 2017/18 or break well clear of danger over the second half of 2018/19.
I look at that 48-second clip and, despite the fact several players who played that day are still in and around the current squad, it looks like a completely different team. That’s because it was.
Bruce has better players on paper. He now has the proven goalscorer Rafa never had in Callum Wilson and far more flair in attacking areas, but the spirit and focus that one existed in abundance under Benitez is all but gone.
We were beaten plenty of times under Rafa, but there’d be reactions to bad defeats. There was character, an expectation to give back to the fans, VERY few capitulations or alarming moments that made you wonder if he’d lost the dressing room.
He demanded more from every player, he made them understand what was being asked of them – both tactically and physically – and got a tune out of plenty poor ones, yet Bruce has the most talented squad we’ve had since we last went down and is doing little other than put them down, mess them about and make them look so much worse than they could be under a capable manager.
After nine without a win and everything on the line, this past week should’ve been reminiscent of that famous clip under Rafa Benitez, but all I’m seeing is a Steve Bruce side who’ve ran out of luck and have nothing left in the tank for a manager who’s well and truly overstayed his welcome at the club.
Under Benitez there was hope and something worth fighting for. Under Bruce it just feels utterly hopeless and that of a club heading in only one direction…and that’s down.