Bruce’s blame game backfires as ticking time bomb explodes at worst possible time

A report from Craig Hope has made big claims that Matt Ritchie and Steve Bruce were involved in a training ground altercation this week involving the manager apparently shoulder-barging the midfielder.

The news of this bust-up follows Steve Bruce’s post-match comments about Matt Ritchie being at fault for the Wolves equaliser.

After the Brentford loss in December, Steve Bruce was asked whether he had lost the dressing room. Three months later, the question is being asked again.

After the mess up against Wolves, there were already reports of unhappiness amongst the players, especially after being thrown under the bus by their manager, and Matt Ritchie has apparently taken it upon himself to voice that unhappiness.

In all honesty, I’m shocked that it’s taken this long for reports like this to start. We’ve had titbits of single player fallouts but nothing that has encompassed the whole team yet or a fallout of this magnitude.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed someone so willing to blame his own players than Bruce. At least during Alan Pardew’s time of excuses, he had the good decency to blame the Notting Hill Carnival or long grass!

Originally, in response to questions after the Brentford defeat, Bruce was quoted saying:

“I do think the players are playing for us (me and my staff)… maybe they’re just not playing well enough. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have lost tonight. It’s certainly not down to lack of effort or determination.”

For me, this was the final nail in his coffin (not a threat, Steve, just a different idiom to one of your own favourites). I was absolutely baffled that the players hadn’t started a revolt after this because the connotations of what he was saying were downright insulting.

To put some context around this, in case you can’t recall, we had just played our first team against a Championship second team and were roundly beaten.

He essentially said two positives things and then completely undercut it with a damning negative. What Bruce has done here has made an insult sandwich. He’s got two very nice slices of Nick De Marco’s homemade sourdough bread and shoved a rotting piece of cabbage in-between. Compliment (Backing himself) > Insult > Compliment.

So, he’s established these positive things with this quote:

  1. They’re following his and his staff’s instructions
  2. They play with effort and determination

What he states as the negative and the reason for the loss:

  1. They’re not playing well enough

As he had already established (in his mind) that it’s not his instructions that are the issue and that player effort isn’t an issue, it boils down to player ability and that they’re simply not good enough. This is an insulting and disgusting way to manage and he should have had a player revolt on his hands at the time.

The sad thing is, however, that this has been a mainstay of Bruce’s tenure and the players have almost been beaten down by their manager and the media, playing up the idea that they’re simply not good enough.

Could you imagine what that must feel like to be in your twenties, doing a job you love, in one of the very top tiers of that job and you are told numerous times that you’re not good enough, no matter how hard you try, by your boss and by the media? Or worse, the boss doesn’t even tell you this directly, but does it behind your back in a non-secretive, public way?

I’m sure some of the players will shrug and not attribute it to themselves, some will not have heard what he said and some will not care either way (Jonjo Shelvey) but I’m certain that there will be some who will have listened to what he said about them and would be affected by his words in some capacity.

Ritchie and the players namechecked by Bruce after Wolves should be annoyed with him. Even if there was an issue that was out of his control, to publicly point the finger when the buck stops with him, as manager, is terribly unprofessional and undermining. The criticism isn’t nuanced and doesn’t promise improvement but simply tries to pass the blame along.

I’ve seen some comments saying that he’s right to point out that there were issues in basic defending but why are “the basics” something that Bruce is so happy to point out as being done incorrectly? “The basics” implies things that can be done without managerial interference, things that can be done automatically. The very suggestion that the players are messing up on “basic” things absolves Bruce from blame. What does Bruce achieve by claiming that his players are incapable of doing “the basics”? It doesn’t help them, it doesn’t improve them, it simply points the finger at them and tells them that they’re not good enough.

I’m sure players would have been disgruntled at how quickly Bruce hanged Darlow out to dry after his mistakes against Manchester United. As many may agree, Darlow’s time in goal should have been done not long after Dubravka recovered from his injury, but for Bruce to unceremoniously drop him, publicly point out his faults and also leak his removal to the press, surely other players would be questioning how the manager have treated their colleague and friend.

Players know they are in danger of being dropped if their form dips or they are not on par with another player, it’s part of the game (even if players like Shelvey don’t like it). I’m sure Darlow knew that there was a very good chance that he was going to be dropped at some point due to Dubravka’s importance and standing within the club but the way it was done was poor.

I stand by my call for Darlow to be replaced, as I’m sure many fans do, but Bruce’s method of doing so was both late and incompetent.

The comment that stood out particularly badly for me after the Wolves game was Bruce’s comment about Joelinton’s chance: “He should score. It’s a big, huge opportunity.”

The comment that stood out particularly badly for me after the Wolves game was Bruce’s comment about Joelinton’s chance: “He should score. It’s a big, huge opportunity.”

As the manager, simply stating that Joelinton should score achieves nothing but to excuse himself for not managing a win. Long term, this heaps more pressure on the already goal-shy, low on confidence and regularly slated Joelinton to succeed in scoring next time he’s in that position. Fans groaning about it and pundits analysing it is a whole lot different to the man who picks you and is supposed to believe in you, openly criticising you.

Imagine Joelinton is in that position again for the next match, do you think he’ll score? Possibly, but he’s probably more unlikely to given that he has further pressure upon his shoulders knowing that he’ll be called out by his manager if he misses. In fact, there may be even more of chance that he doesn’t even get into that position so that he can’t be singled out by his manager if he does go wrong.

Personally, I think a quote along these lines would be the exact sort of thing that could help him: “He could have scored but there was some excellent defending there to stop him. I’m sure he’ll get it next time.”

What harm could that do? It might not result in a goal or a complete upswing in form but it shows a player that there’s still belief in them and could help massively with morale.

After losing all three our star attacking players, it is important for morale to be kept high but Bruce’s comments do nothing to help. Bruce has been playing the blame game for far too long at Newcastle and if the players are unhappy with him then I don’t blame them because I’m unhappy too. This bust up has been a long time coming and it would be within Bruce’s foolish nature to pick Matt Ritchie as an enemy.

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2 thoughts on “Bruce’s blame game backfires as ticking time bomb explodes at worst possible time

  1. Bruce has always blamed everyone apart from himself for all the dire performances this season, which to me is ridiculous. He picks the team he is the manger so he gets all the stick and has to accept that. Surely his dismal record in previous managerial roles has taught him something, that u cannot pick out individual players for the whole teams performance. They play as a team, Bruce tells them where he wants them and how they should play. So when they lose its down to him no one else. He’s lost the respect of the players so his time is up, hopefully Graeme Jones has got what it takes to keep us in the premier league.


  2. im sure he snapped at Jones on saturday cause he glared at bruce just after bruce said something towards him then turned and ignored him the sooner he is gone the better which could be sunday if we lose at WBA heres hoping because the players wont be bothered to play for him


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