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UNCERTAINTY has enjoyed a permanent residence at Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United, but it has been particularly prominent during the last few weeks on Tyneside.
Silence has been deafening at St James’ Park all summer, even before Rafael Benitez’s controversial departure at the end of June. Even now, with Steve Bruce’s appointment confirmed by the club this morning, the future is far from positive and far from predictable.
The most telling thing for many Newcastle supporters was the way the club communicated, via sources off the record, their pursuit of Bruce.
Nobody could or would comment on Benitez’s future after his one and only meeting about a contract extension with owner Mike Ashley at the Sports Direct headquarters in May, or the takeover speculation, which is still technically ongoing.
Newcastle were accused of double standards, but after reportedly being rejected by a number of higher candidates, including Nice boss Patrick Vieira and Manchester City assistant Mikel Arteta, they turned to Bruce.
Getting him out of his Sheffield Wednesday contract has proven tougher than expected; compensation hasn’t been agreed, with Wednesday holding out for £5 million and, despite his resignation earlier in the week, the Owls are considering legal action, which will surely put further delays in place when time is of the essence on Tyneside.
Yet again, the Magpies board have proven themselves to be completely tone deaf. Having allowed Benitez, a Champions League-winning manager who had put everything in place to sign a new deal, to depart, they have hired Bruce and talked up his local roots.
Born in Wallsend, the former Manchester United defender was a fan growing up, but for many current supporters, that is not going to change their minds about a man they believe has had his time in the Premier League.
Many of those in the media leaping to the defence of Bruce’s hiring have made similar points about the fanbase and how he will understand the demands, which have all too often been called unrealistic.
The fact the club are trying to make that his selling point shows that the board and fans could hardly be further apart. Contrary to popular belief, geography doesn’t matter to Newcastle supporters; they want to be represented by talented individuals who respect them and try to work in a way that will make them competitive and successful.
Ignoring doubts over Bruce’s ability to do any of this, but claiming he is one of them, is incredibly insincere and many may feel more disillusioned than ever.
In fact, that is almost certainly the case. Calls to boycott the club in the wake of this summer’s progression, or lack of it, have really gained traction. There are reportedly 12,000 season tickets that have been left unsold.
It has been said for a long time that only walking away, and not giving any money to the club, will force change at Newcastle. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if as many people as that, or more, have in fact decided to vote with their feet.
Bruce will know what he is letting himself in for, and the counter-argument to the backlash suggests he isn’t the problem and fans would be better getting behind him.
But having not worked in the top-flight for four years and carved out a reputation as a Championship boss recently, Newcastle is the best job he is likely to get between now and the day he retires.
Critics will suggest by accepting the role under the constraints Ashley will put in place, the same ones Benitez refused to entertain, such as very little control over transfers, make him part of the problem.
With just three weeks remaining until both the closure of the transfer window and the start of the Premier League season, though, Newcastle simply have to get a move on if they are to make any additions in the closed season. The time for planning is over, now is the time for action.
Hoffenheim’s Brazilian striker Joelinton is supposedly all set to arrive once Bruce is settled in, but that in itself may not solve the issues.
For all of the politics involved when it came to transfers with Benitez, he did change the approach. Under Steve McClaren, the summer prior to relegation in 2016, Newcastle spent £55m on talented players with big reputations, such as Georginio Wijnaldum and Florian Thauvin, who were sold the club as a stepping stone, which suited them at the time because they were interested in moving them on for a profit.
When push came to shove, the perception was they only cared about their careers rather than the dogfight for survival. Benitez hated this ideology and soon signed players based on work ethic and ability to fit into the squad, as well as talent.
The fear is, now he has departed, Newcastle will regress to their old ways. McClaren often struggled to get the most out of his players from a motivational and tactical standpoint; Bruce will have to prove he can succeed in both regards.
Earlier this week, Newcastle United repainted their players’ entrance at St James’ Park. Now, donning the steps are the words “We Are Ready.”
They now have a manager, which is a step on the ladder, but there is no way they can profess to have everything in place ahead of the new campaign. A lot of work needs doing if they are to lift the doom and gloom engulfing the Toon.
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