MARTIN SAMUEL: Steve Bruce’s inevitable sacking by Newcastle will be the saddest all season… the club means more to him as a local man than whoever replaces him, but he was NEVER deemed good enough by his own kind
- The end was inevitable for Steve Bruce at Newcastle, even the man knew that
- No, he didn’t play his football up there, but neither did Sir Bobby Robson
- So the great sadness for Bruce was that he was never good enough for them
- Bruce’s side could have taken greater risks, but what if they had not paid off?
The end was inevitable, even Steve Bruce knew that. Yet, for all this, it is hard to imagine a sadder sacking in football this season than the one that took place at Newcastle on Wednesday.
It does not matter who the club gets now. Paulo Fonseca, Eddie Howe, Lucien Favre, even Steven Gerrard. Newcastle will never mean to any of them what it meant to Bruce. He was a local man, an attribute some still pretend is valued around those parts.
No, he didn’t play his football up there, but neither did Sir Bobby Robson, who had been 49 years in the game as a player and manager before he took a job farther north than Birmingham.
The end was inevitable for Steve Bruce (centre) at Newcastle, even the man himself knew that
Newcastle will never mean to Paulo Fonseca or the other candidates to replace Bruce what it meant to him
So the great sadness for Bruce was that he was never good enough for them. Never good enough for his own kind. He was not so much booed out as booed in, because he was seen as a journeyman manager and followers of Newcastle think they are bigger than that.
‘When this takeover surfaced 18 months ago, the talk was of Mauricio Pochettino taking over,’ said former player Warren Barton. ‘This is what I think about when I think about Newcastle managers.’
And that’s strange because since Barton arrived in 1995, Newcastle managers have also included John Carver, Glenn Roeder, Joe Kinnear, Graeme Souness, Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce, Steve McClaren and, for 185 games, Alan Pardew.
Where Barton gets the idea that Newcastle is the natural home of the most gifted coaches in Europe is a mystery. They got Rafael Benitez, but he was on the rebound. So were most of the marquee appointments, for that matter, even Robson.
He was a local man, he didn’t play his football up there, but neither did Sir Bobby Robson (L)
Bruce was seen by Mike Ashley as a safe pair of hands; a manager who knew the Premier League and could keep the club out of the Championship pending its sale. It wasn’t always pretty, or entertaining, but it served its purpose. And Newcastle got their buyer.
One look down the road at Sunderland shows what can happen when a club becomes separated from its Premier League revenue stream. No billionaire saviours from the Gulf are on the horizon in Wearside.
Not that Bruce got any thanks from his tormentors when the end came. There was crude rejoicing from not just the social media trolls, but the sort of people for whom BeKind is no more than a virtue-signalling hashtag.
The man himself recounted the insults and the effect on his family with more sadness than bitterness.
Those crowing about getting their club back, meanwhile, overlook that it was Bruce’s club, too, and he would have loved nothing more than to have worked with the resources and positivity that enveloped Robson and Kevin Keegan in happier times.
So the great sadness for Bruce was that he was never good enough for them, for his own kind
Yes, Bruce’s Newcastle could have taken greater risks, but what if those risks had not paid off? His remit was to keep Newcastle safe.
Keegan’s great entertainers blew the title; Bruce couldn’t afford to ignore his brief in a bid for popularity.
Now Fonseca is favourite for the job. A hired gun, passing through. Fonseca was a journeyman player — which Bruce certainly wasn’t, as a captain of Manchester United and winner of more titles than Newcastle in the last 113 years —with a chequered record as a coach.
He has impressed with smaller clubs such as Pacos Ferreira but failed when given the plum job at Porto in 2013.
Fonseca took over a club that had won back-to-back titles but was sacked in March during his first season, with Porto nine points off Benfica.
Bruce was seen by Mike Ashley (L) as a safe pair of hands; a boss who knew the Premier League
He thrived with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, less so with Roma, who had finished seventh when Fonseca was replaced by Jose Mourinho.
Yet Fonseca would be welcomed on Tyneside in a way Bruce never was because he brings with him an air of glamour, of mystery, of excitement.
And if it doesn’t go well, on he goes without a backward glance because that is the lot of the European coach and Fonseca will have worked in his fourth country and counting.
There was no mystery about Bruce, with his centre-half’s nose and uninspiring strategies. Everyone had intimate knowledge of his managerial career, too, all 1,000 games of it.
Every high, every low, every promotion or relegation. He arrived shop-soiled. Who knows whether Fonseca’s second stint at Pacos Ferreira — finishing eighth — was good, bad or indifferent?
Those crowing about getting their club back following the takeover overlook that it was Bruce’s club too
Gerrard could mine a strong relationship with the fans, as he has at Rangers, but we all know when he dreams of winning the league, the ribbons on the trophy are red, not black and white.
And that is what makes Bruce’s departure so sad. When he looked around St James’ Park before it all turned sour on Sunday, he was afforded a glimpse of what might have been. The town abuzz, Wor Flags flying, Local Hero reverberating as the teams ran out.
This was how Bruce must have imagined it would feel to be Newcastle manager. At least he got to experience it, once.
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