Steve Bruce was a busy man last night, taking questions from Toon fans on BBC Radio Newcastle.
The NUFC boss covered everything from Graeme Jones’ arrival, to Longstaff’s future, potential new signings, Lejeune’s exit, his preferred formation, Joelinton’s struggle to justify that £40m price tag and much, much more.
Without further ado, here’s everything he had to say on the phone in:
Could you give us a summary of your first two years at Newcastle?
Covid was difficult, and we realised how difficult it has been when we witnessed what St James’ Park was all about on Sunday.
I have to say the crowd were quite incredible in their noise and the way they support the team. We are quite unique and I’ve said it many, many times.
Of course, we’ve missed that. The idea of playing behind closed doors was a way of people still seeing football, but it was totally weird.
I have to say well done to all the supporters who attended. To a man, they were absolutely fantastic towards the team.
The top eight seem to play a rotation policy, getting fresh legs on every week. Would that be something we look at going forward with a few more attacking signings?
I’ve said it many, many times, it’s about getting the balance. I understand what all the supporters want, they want to see the team getting forward.
You’re right, over the last couple of years in particular with bringing in players of the calibre of Almiron who started it really with Allan, Callum and Jo, we have got a threat at the top end of the pitch.
As for rotation it was brought in a few years by the big clubs competing in Europe playing Saturday-Tuesday, and it’s become a big part of what the squad is all about.
We’ve got a squad of 25 players, usually three goalkeepers. Especially with the teams involved in Europe, they can have the luxury of rotating.
The strength of your squad is the key to it all, and we’ve been criticised in the past for playing a weakened team in the cup. But there’s a lot of teams who keep the squad happy by playing them in games coming up.
Otherwise the players themselves won’t be too happy themselves about the situation. It’s all about results.
The last thing I wanted to do at the weekend was bring off the centre-forward [Wilson], but we’ve got to be mindful of the fact that Callum since February when he got injured against Southampton, it’s a bit of a catch-up.
You worry about someone like Callum who relies on his pace and power, we detected a bit of fatigue at the weekend and we didn’t want to take that gamble.
Your relationship with supporters has been a bit mixed in terms of how things have been represented in the press. What do you think fans expect from you, the team and the club, and are you meeting that?
First and foremost, I am a fan myself so I want what’s best for the supporters of our great club which is surely to try and win something.
It’s become very difficult because of the top six/eight and where they’ve gone and where they are. Leicester have proved it, Wigan have proved it, I got to a cup final with Hull but didn’t quite get there.
I understand what the supporters want, and when I keep saying level of expectations I’ve been portrayed wrongly.
The supporters here want to see the team do well, more than any other team, which makes us quite unique. It gives us an unbelievable fanbase and support which no-one else has got.
Considering we haven’t won something… I was nine when we last won something. We’ve got to two quarter-finals, lost to Manchester City in one and didn’t perform in the other which was hugely disappointing.
I get what the support is all about, I understand it and in management and when you’re managing Newcastle, you’re not going to keep everyone happy all the time.
But what I want to try and say is look, I understand what you want and will try to give you what you want.
It is very difficult and the vast amount of supporters understand how difficult it is too. We can only do a little bit at a time, we haven’t got the budget to transform the team overnight.
My job is to keep ploughing away and try and improve. I’ll let others judge whether I have been an improvement, certainly in the back-end of last season we played in a way I wanted us to play.
We had the players to do it, and that was proven. We want to carry that on if we possibly can.
What does a normal day look like for Steve Bruce?
The job consumes you. For me, at times I have to take the emotion out of it. It’s the dream job for me, I’m a supporter.
First of all, I walk my dog. I get into the training ground at probably about 8am, we then have a meeting with the medical and coaching department of who we’ve got training.
Then training starts and we oversee this which is the most important part of the day. Afterwards, it’s analysing who we’re playing at the weekend and it goes on and on and on.
Then there’s watching the videos, the players and all the rest of it. It is consuming but very, very enjoyable.
How lucky am I to be a Newcastle fan and in the hot seat? For me, it’s a privilege.
What roles does Steve Agnew, Stephen Clemence, Graeme Jones and yourself undertake in a general week of training?
The one thing about a football manager now is we’re able to have more than one coach. Back in the day, you used to have one assistant.
Now I’ve got Aggers, Graeme who joined us in January, Steve Clemence and also Ben Dawson who came up a time over the Christmas period and has proven very good at what he does.
Most of it is broken up into attacking and defending, you try and rotate that a little bit to give everyone a different voice on the training ground.
That’s important I think, when you’re the manager you have to make sure that there’s a different voice at times. That’s vitally important, and one of the reasons we brought in Graeme at the time.
I thought it was the right time to have somebody else with different ideas and a view, and we know how successful that’s been.
That’s the way it is. You delegate, and let them go and take it. For example, this morning Steve Agnew and myself took the defensive side of the team and Graeme did the offensive side.
Getting that balance is the right thing.
Some people said Graeme Jones was appointed above your head. I know you’ve talked about this before, but can you clarify what really happened?
I’ve been in the job for something like 20 years. Do you really think I’m going to allow something like that to happen?
First and foremost, results weren’t great at the time. It was important I brought somebody in, and I spoke to two or three candidates.
Graeme was the first choice with what he’d done, and he’s a Geordie who was desperate to come back up here and work for his boyhood club.
That was one of the big reasons.
Did your role change as a result of his arrival with what you did on the training ground?
No. I’ve never been one of those, I always have tried and trusted coaches I rely on. The training ground is the most important part of preparation, what we do and how we set the team up.
That’s critical, so my role has not changed.
It became a running joke with messages on this show – If Newcastle won, it was because of Graeme Jones. If they didn’t, it was your fault…
Listen, I’m genuinely delighted that I’ve made the right choice. I have to put that out there.
I spoke to two or three people, and in all of this the dialogue with Lee Charnley was I’d like to get Graeme Jones.
It was going to be difficult because he was doing very well at Bournemouth, we knew there had to be compensation.
More importantly, when I met with Graeme, there was a burning desire to come and be part of Newcastle because of his allegiance to the club.
That was the overriding thing that attracted me to him.
What formation do you like at the back? When you have Murphy and Ritchie they’re not so good defensively. I think other clubs are targeting them, and that definitely happened on Sunday.
There’s no question the pair of them like to go forward more than defend. I think that is their strength. For example, the second goal Ritchie crossed it and the other wing-back was in the box to score.
It’s something we’ve worked on. I think defensively, they both know and especially Jacob because he was an out and out wide player who liked to get forward, need to work.
I do believe the pair of them have improved. Of course, they’re going to come across some top players in these positions. In the Premier League, the forward players they’re going to play against are usually world class players.
It’s something we’ve looked at of course, but I think especially Jacob is improving and that’s key.
Hand on heart Steve, do you think Joelinton is ever going to make it?
Well I’ve sincerely hope so because it won’t be through lack of trying.
I do believe he was thrust into a difficult situation and of course, the huge price tag can weigh a lot of people down and we have seen that.
He’s been at the club a couple of years now, and I do believe he is probably better playing to a side rather than being a number nine.
He’s only 25, I hand on heart hope so because there’s nobody desperate to try and do well than big Joe.
What has happened to Sean Longstaff?
When I came to the club two years ago, I’d obviously heard about Sean and unfortunately for me in my first season, he was recovering from a really awful knee injury.
I think that takes a long time to recover from. Certainly over the last two years or so, Sean has played something like 50-odd times for me.
He might not have hit the form you were talking about when he burst on to the scene. I do think he was derailed a bit with the injury, and I think it took him a bit of time to recover which is normal.
My job is to try and keep getting the best out of him. He’s played 50-odd times for me, so the next thing is for Sean to go and show us again what he’s got.
People are concerned about both Longstaff brothers that perhaps both of them aren’t reaching their potential, and that the club could lose them both.
That is a factor. With contracts, when I walked into the door the club had offered Sean a contract and I don’t think it’s been revisited for a while now.
I think with Sean in particular, it’s all about wanting to play regularly and that’s the prerogative of any player. We offered him a deal but it went on week after week and it wasn’t resolved.
Young Matty we tied up for a couple of years, but they’ve both got a year to run. It’s a difficult situation for everybody concerned.
Young Matty has had an awful time in terms of injury and illness. It might be at this particular time he goes and gets some games. He badly needs games, he hasn’t played for a long time now.
We keep getting people coming on and suggesting you are told from the club’s hierarchy that because they paid a lot of money, you have to play Joelinton.
As I said to the previous caller, the hierarchy have never ever interfered.
It was the one thing I’d never allow, I’ve got to stop that nonsense. They’ve never said to me ‘Steve, you have to play him’ or ‘you have to play him’ because we paid a lot of money.
That’s a load of bull. I can categorically deny that.
Why is it you play five at the back, and you never tried a 4-2-3-1?
A good question, and we have occasionally played a back four. When I arrived at the club, I studied how Newcastle had played under the previous manager.
It was fair to say the way the team was set up and the amount of centre-halves we had at the club, it was geared up towards that.
At this moment, we still have six at the football club. I analysed what we had done and I didn’t want to change too much, too quick.
I’ve predominantly played throughout my career a back four, and it’s fair to say during my couple of years we’ve probably played three or five because the personnel suits that.
We did change, and unfortunately we are geared for results. When you look at statistics, we have better results and performances playing that way.
We vacated the middle of the pitch too quickly on Sunday in my opinion. We were caught and it’s something we have to address.
We’ve spoken about that all week that we were too open in the middle of the pitch. Then again, it’s about that balance of trying to get your forward players to create more.
To score a goal, you have to get people up the pitch. This week in particular and it is a criticism I take on board, we vacated the middle of the pitch far too quickly.
Why did you let Florian Lejeune go?
I think Florian, the two knee injuries he took back to back, was key to it all. I think it was clear to everybody he needed to get games under his belt.
He had a very decent season in Spain, I think the intensity of the Premier League meant he was more suited maybe to going back to Spain.
With the six centre-backs we already have at the club, we simply had to make room, Florian was one of the decisions that had to be made.
In your press conferences, you seem to talk down Newcastle and talk up opponents and highlighting it will be a tough test. Why do you do it, and why can’t you be more positive?
Point taken. The Premier League is the best league in the world, and we are up against some of the most outstanding teams in Europe, week in and week out.
I never want to undervalue or belittle the club. I’ve said it many times that we’re unique, we’re a great football club and I’ve only been here a couple of years ago and realise again what it means to everybody in the city.
We have a lot of people who have worked for years behind the scenes who are desperate to see the club move forward and be better.
I will try to address that. I never ever want to try and pull the club down because as I’ve said many times, it’s a fantastic unique club.
I’ll take the point on board. I’ll stress to you, I never ever want to bring our club, our players or our squad down. We’ve got the nucleus of a very decent squad, and if everybody stays fit we know what we’re capable of.
I know what we’re capable of, we’re capable of taking on anyone in the Premier League when everyone is fit and well.
You said in your press conference last week that changes don’t happen overnight. Given that this is your third season, how much longer is the changes going to be? You look at teams with smaller resources playing a far better brand of positive football.
In two years, you’ve got four transfer windows to try and improve the squad and in them windows we have been unfortunately been hit by Covid.
There’s no denying that, and that’s obviously denied us a big chunk of the money to invest in the squad because we’ve lost a vast sum.
I was delighted to bring in Joe Willock because he definitely improved us.
I think if you look over the last couple of windows, the Almirons and Callum Wilsons of this world and now Joe, the team is improving.
Now, the brand of football is something which has been a debate for a long, long time.
You’ve got to be a little bit pragmatic at times, but I understand what the supporters want. They want to see the team playing on the front foot and scoring a goal, but the most important thing of course is winning the football match.
It’s about getting that balance right. I would like to think the team has improved, I will certainly listen to your opinion if you think that’s different over the last six months in particular.
The process seems to be quicker at other clubs, for example at West Ham.
Look, the manager has done a fabulous job there. You’re right in saying, West Ham supporters were probably feeling doom and gloom.
They’ve invested well, they brought two players relatively cheaply in the two Czech players who have been enormous for them.
The emergence of Declan Rice in particular for a young player has been enormous to them. I can understand, and who knows, it might be our year to go and finish better than we were [last season].
You do feel that is possible and fans can hope and aspire to? It’s got to about more than finishing fourth-bottom and avoiding relegation.
We’ve got to be better than that. This is our fifth year in the big league, and I’ve said many times if we stay well with our big players staying fit…
Liverpool with the loss of their three defenders last year, they weren’t the same team. We need a bit of luck in that department, and if we are I am hopeful we can better than we were last year.
Why do you insist on playing players out of position? We have had wingers playing full backs, we’ve had Krafth at centre-back and we’ve rarely seen Almiron in his best position.
If I play someone out of position, it’s not that often.
Emil as a third centre-half is what we did at the back-end of last season and something we did successfully. He does give us a little bit of pace in that area.
I don’t class him being out of position. Yes, he is preferred as a right full-back but there’s been many a player who can move into that position. In my opinion, Emil can play there.
Has the job so far been a privilege or difficult?
It has been a privilege and difficult, of course. I’m a football manager, and it can only happen to me that I’ve managed the two big clubs in Birmingham, Sheffield and the North East.
After my time down the road at Sunderland, it took a long time for my phone to ring and it was Hull. I erred a bit of caution on it, and I enjoyed my four years there immensely.
When I got the call from Lee Charnley, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. Even though I’m in the twilight of my career shall we say, I couldn’t wait to get here and get started.
It was an unbelievable opportunity.
Did that come out of the blue?
Yeah, really really out of the blue. It happened so quickly, it snowballed from a conversation to being done and dusted within two or three days.
It was quite a remarkable phone call.
Can you switch off from the job?
You have to try, and sometimes I have to try and take the emotion out of it. All my family and friends here are black-and-white daft as well.
It can engulf you, of course it can. But the one thing you can try and do, and thankfully I’ve got 900-odd games experience behind me.
I was offered the job 14 years ago and maybe then it was probably too early for me to grasp how enormous it is.
It is an absolute privilege, but I have to switch off at times. When I try and do it, I do it like most other people do it. I have a glass of wine, or go to the pub for a beer. Whatever, you have to try and find a way to switch off.
You have had a lot of stick in the job. Does any of that affect you?
Nobody likes to be criticised, but if you’re going to do this job that you understand and I said from day one that I won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
However, I will try and win them over and the only way you can do that is with results.
That is fundamentally the manager’s job. We’re all judged on results, and when results aren’t going for you, of course you’re open to criticism and rightly so.
If it’s balanced and constructive, then fine. You have to accept it because it’s part and parcel of being a Premier League manager at a huge football club.
You have to live with it and deal with it. I don’t look for it on social media, my son has been embroiled in it a few times I’m sure.
But some of the comments he’s read to me, he’s got a good right to have a go back because some of it is ridiculous.
The vast majority of people from when I walk my dog want to wish me the best of luck. Of course, there are going to be people on the social media platforms who are just out there to be destructive which is never great.
Do you watch Love Island?
Absolutely 100% not! Never seen it, and I won’t. I can assure you of that.
Which reality show would you go on if you had to?
I’m not a big fan of reality TV. I’ve never cooked anything in my life, definitely not Strictly.
No reality shows!
We’re one or two injuries away from calamity. If we get a few injuries up front, there’s not much behind it. Is there much planned to try and strengthen that?
I think at the forward end of the pitch, it’s as strong as it’s been for a long, long time.
Now, of course we’re always looking to try and improve. I personally think we have to improve defensively.
We’ve conceded far too many goals, and we’ve already conceded four this season. It’s something which I think we need to address next.
I think at the forward end of the pitch, we’ve got Almiron, Dwight Gayle, Joelinton. We’ve got a lot of bodies which there who for me can score a goal.
We’re always looking to improve the squad but I think defensively we need to start addressing that and getting the balance right.
I’ve always been a big admirer of Dwight and hopefully he can stay injury free. I think that’s the key to it, of all of what we’re saying we have to sustain a period.
Callum Wilson up until last February didn’t get injured, and after that he picks up two or three towards the back end.
Of course you’re going to miss your big players, but we’re not alone in that. It’s key to it to stay injury free.
Are you expecting any more activity in the transfer window?
You can never say never. We have this conundrum at the moment with the goalkeeping situation.
Do we name four in the squad which is practically unheard of? If we do do that, then that’s the full quota for the 25-man squad.
That’s a decision we have to make in the next couple of weeks. I never give up on trying to improve the squad, and if there’s somebody out there who can improve us and we can do it, then we will try and act.
You talk a lot about finding the balance, but we seemed to be fairly balanced under the previous manager. You talk about getting the balance right between attack and defence, but after two years how long is it going to take and what do you see at the end of the process?
I understand where you’re coming from, totally. My thing about getting the balance is how do we pose a threat, it was levelled against me in the first year that we were too defensive and too negative.
What I’ve tried with my coaches as well, I would like to think at the back-end of last season we got the balance pretty much spot on.
Towards the back-end of last season was what we were trying to achieve. That’s what we’ve got to try and sustain if you like.
On Sunday for an hour, my fear was we’ve had our fair share of injuries and we nearly got it right for an hour. Unfortunately we let ourselves down.
I believe towards the end of last season was close to what we are trying to achieve.
Mine is to give the supporters what they want. Newcastle want to see winning football, it always help no matter how you do it.
We enjoy being entertained, I said from day one that Saint-Maximin would absolutely be a crowd pleaser. We all enjoy watching him and play, and [we want] to have a team that works hard and give a little bit of excitement so they can enjoy watching their team.
Do you think we’ll ever be able to get Saint-Maximin, Almiron and Fraser all in one team?
How many times have we said about the balance? Almiron I have to tell you, I think can play in midfield with no problem at all.
He’s proved that, and he gives us something different from midfield. You add Joe Willock to that, and you have Saint-Maximin or Ryan Fraser, then we are a threat.
That’s where I believe we have improved in the last couple of years, and that’s what we’ll try and improve on.
When you look at the defence, a lot of fans are screaming out for the likes of Fernandez and Schar to play together.
They’ve all played a fair amount of games, not this season just yet. The captain comes into it, Schar comes into who’s been away for most of the summer.
They’ve all played 20-odd times last year. One thing for certain, they’ll all get their chance.
How is Karl Darlow?
When I’ve got this platform, I have to say for those people who are under 30 and thinking of not getting jabbed, just look at the Karl Darlow situation.
Here is a young, really top professional athlete who has been struck down with this. He found himself in hospital, so just because you are 30 or under, it is still a problem.
It knocked the stuffing out of Karl. He is still recovering, he lost a hell of a lot of weight because of it. He’s not in contention I would have thought for the weekend.
The same for Dubravka who has picked up this injury in the Euros which has needed an operation. Unfortunately, that has become infected which has caused a problem there.
We’ve been struck already, and we’ve only been going two or three weeks.
Have you found your players have gone along with the jabs?
It’s everybody’s choice and their prerogative with it. But having seen it first hand now, and witnessing it with young athletes, because you’re 30 or under does not make you immune.
It can get hold of you. In all of the evidence I’ve seen and the Premier League are updating us constantly on it, I would really strongly recommend you go and get your jabs.
What did you make of Freddie Woodman’s performance?
We wanted him to carry on playing because he’s had a wonderful couple of years at Swansea and he’s a young goalkeeper who has done very well.
He’s been thrown into the spotlight, and let’s hope he keeps performing like he did at the weekend and grasps that opportunity.
What is your relationship like with Mike Ashley?
It’s from afar, and the everyday running of the club means I’m in constant dialogue with Lee [Charnley].
Really, I don’t have much to do with Mike.
He lets me get on and manage it with Lee, and most importantly he lets me get on with the job.