In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, top goalscorer Callum Wilson has talked about Steve Bruce’s future, our disastrous spell at the turn of the year, the infamous “mole incident” and his hopes for next season.
He also sent a subtle message to Mike Ashley ahead of the transfer window, believing we will kick on in 2021/22 if he spends the £40m plus he shelled out last summer.
The £20m signing Wilson has had an injury hampered debut season on Tyneside and will miss the final game away to Fulham tomorrow, but has still became a firm fan favourite after bagging 12 crucial goals to help keep us in the league.
Speaking to Luke Edwards – a self confessed friend of Bruce’s – he insists the manager deserves another chance next year, and can’t see why we would want to change something he feels is clearly “working”.
“He definitely deserves a chance to come back. I don’t know why you would change something that is working.
“We are not going to have the finish in terms of league position that we would have liked but if you take everything into consideration, the injuries, Covid, and those negative things that have been going on around the club, I think he’s done well.
“I’m not saying it’s been a successful season, this isn’t what the players or the manager wanted, but the way we have finished the season, that shows what we are capable of when we have our best players available.
“The last few weeks, we have been playing well, we’ve had some good results and I think it is the type of football the fans want to see as well.”
From the back end of 2020 to the first couple of months of 2021, we hit a disastrous run of form that saw us pick up just two wins in 22 games, with that spell featuring a pathetic display at a previous winless Sheffield United.
Many fans believe the empty stadiums actually saved Bruce’s skin during that spell, with Wilson thinking it would have made life difficult had St James’ Park been rammed during those struggles:
“The manager was really good in that period. He was just himself, kept smiling. He had to try and pick the best side that he could with the players we had out and keep going.
“He gave us a lot of encouragement. He’s a really good man-manager so when things aren’t going great, when the lads are low on confidence, he was in there boosting them up and got us all pulling in the right direction. That’s what you want from a manager really.
“It was really difficult for him, that period, it was a bad run, there is no hiding from that.
“I think with fans in the stadium then [in the winter], it would have been even more difficult. It was probably best for us, at that time, there weren’t fans inside the stadium because it was hard enough without the extra demands they would have made.
“If you’re getting boos and stuff going on, it doesn’t help the players or the management. It was a blessing in disguise at that stage.”
Back in March, Craig Hope of the Daily Mail released an explosive story that claimed a dressing room rift had broken out after Matt Ritchie called Bruce a “coward” in a furious training ground exchange.
This story happened to be true, but in the hostile aftermath that followed, the factual accuracy of the story didn’t get in the way of NUFC banning the journalist from the club. Wilson spoke about the alleged “mole” in the camp at the time and how that situation played out in the dressing room:
“When we got to March, I think we all knew things were going badly and we were in trouble,” explained Wilson. “But I played for a team that got relegated last season at Bournemouth. I remember seeing the dressing room begin to split, little groups forming and people whispering this and that.
“I didn’t see that here. There were reports that the dressing room was divided, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
“When you’re in a tricky period like that, it can go one or two ways. You can start feeling sorry for yourself and turn on each other or you can stick together.
“Yeah, we had a few meetings after those leaks occurred talking about how we need to work harder, on and off the field. As one of the senior players I was in those meetings and I know what was said.
“What we realised was that people from outside the club were trying to get in [to the dressing room] and they were trying to bring negative vibes into the place.
“I don’t know what their motive was but we talked about sticking together and staying united and we’ve seen the benefits of that.”
With this campaign and any faint hopes of going to the Euros are wiped out for him due to injury, Wilson already has his sights set on next season.
He echoes calls from supporters to demand that Mike Ashley splashes the cash in the summer to help us kick on up the table and build on our surprise 12th place finish on the final day.
The 29-year-old also reveals how he’s already itching to play in front of the Toon Army, believing it will raise his game even further:
“It is an emotional football club,”
“There were times when we needed the fans inside the stadium to give us a kick up the backside if I’m honest.
“It’s a football club that demands results and rightly so. At times this season we haven’t been good enough… But we want to start next season afresh. It’s a whole new season and we will have the fans back which I think will be massive for us.
“For me, having fans there will give me another 10-15% in my performance levels. I think next year will be a good year, I have no doubts about that. If we get the same investment we got in the squad last summer, we are going to improve again.
“The best is yet to come from me. Having fans inside the stadium, it’s going to feel like I’ve joined a new football team.
“Getting the crowd behind you, how passionate they are about their football team, scoring a goal in front of them, I will feed off that energy. It’s definitely going to be a positive for me.”