Newcastle United fans love their club, they’re some of the most passionate in the land but it’s a passion the owner, Mike Ashley, doesn’t seem to share. The relationship between supporters and owner continues to deteriorate at a rapid speed.
The appointment of Rafa Benitez brought Ashley a little goodwill, especially when he was persuaded to hang around following relegation to the Championship. Still, constant talks of ‘fairytale sales’, no investment and now the loss of his one bargaining chip – that’s Benitez – and an appointment of the ‘unambitious’ (a word used by the supporters’ club) Steve Bruce, has seen a return of the hatred and loathing. It looks unlikely to stop until it crashes but is Bruce actually a bad appointment?
First of all, let’s clear one thing up, Newcastle are an enormous club with a proud history and Bruce was managing a mid-table Championship club in Sheffield Wednesday, so when you throw into the mix that he’s a boyhood Magpie fan it was a no-brainer for him. The fact Ashley has entrusted the position to him is not his fault and he’ll work tirelessly to achieve results for the Geordies.
The trouble is, he’s already on borrowed time with the fans and anything other than an excellent start to the season will see a toxic atmosphere around the stadium and on the terraces immediately. The fans have been fed a fantasy over the past few months of a new owner with managers like Jose Mourinho linked to the post and yet they’ve ended up with a ‘safe pair of hands’.
Although that safe pair of hands has seen a couple of relegations in their time so they might be more Loris Karius than Gianluigi Buffon. Even if you give Bruce, who also had a literary career, the benefit of the doubt, it’s still going to be a long hard slog in the season ahead.
Last time out Newcastle finished the campaign in 13th place, a position that was widely regarded as a remarkable over achievement. Since then they’ve lost Salomon Rondon at the end of his loan and Ayoze Perez to Leicester City – that’s 23 goals from a team that only managed 42 in total.
It seems near implausible that Ashley will loosen his purse strings to allow Bruce to recruit so it will be bargain shopping for the ex-Sunderland gaffer and then he’ll have to convince players to join a club that appears only to be heading in one direction. So, what’s the plan?
The aim of any football match is to win, style has to come second and that’s exactly how Bruce has always operated. It’s exactly how he’ll approach the task at hand now as well. The trouble is, with the options available to him, any style that could yield points is going to be as entertaining as sticking needles in your eyes.
Take their opening fixtures as an example; first up is a home tie against Arsenal – can you see Newcastle getting anything from that game? Not likely. What about if they try and play football against them? Definitely not.
Then comes a trip to Norfolk to take on newly promoted Norwich City – a club Bruce knows well – and whilst that’s a winnable match the pressure from fans will make it a must win, which makes it harder. The fact it’s the first home game back in the big-time for the Canaries means it will be far from easy. Next up is another away day, this time to Tottenham; see the questions posed about the Arsenal game and the answers remain unchanged.
Realistically, at best that’s three points from nine and, probably, at least two pretty drab performances against the North London sides – I wouldn’t want to be a Newcastle player turning out against Watford in the next game if the opening trio play out like we’ve just predicted.
In brutal honesty, Ashley didn’t want to keep Benitez because it was about more than just the managers wage; it was about a budget, a plan and an ambition to move forwards. Ashley doesn’t care. The only thing Ashley cares about is Newcastle maintaining their topflight status because they’re a more saleable asset in the Premier League.
Sam Allardyce, a man who is not popular with the Toon, is as close to a guarantee of safety as you can get, and he turned it down. Bruce is a poor man’s Allardyce and he might keep Newcastle’s head above water…but don’t count on it. Relegation might be around the corner and after Bruce’s appointment bookmaker’s started predicting Newcastle as the first to sink its ship.