Steve Bruce defiant on his future, quiet on human rights issues

He’s supposed to be sacked and replaced by a more glamorous manager by now

Steve Bruce believes a Saudi-led consortium’s hugely controversial takeover of Newcastle United is great for the city - despite warnings from Amnesty International that the deal represented “sportswashing” of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record. Photograph: Getty Images

Steve Bruce believes a Saudi-led consortium’s hugely controversial takeover of Newcastle United is great for the city - despite warnings from Amnesty International that the deal represented “sportswashing” of the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record. Photograph: Getty Images

 

When Steve Bruce emerges from the St James’ Park tunnel tomorrow he will quite possibly feel a bit like an unwanted top-table wedding guest.

After all Newcastle were supposed to have sacked Bruce and appointed a more glamorous replacement by now. The club’s new directors had envisaged that Rafael Benítez or, perhaps, Brendan Rodgers would have led the team out against Tottenham as a capacity 52,000 crowd celebrated the start of a long-dreamed-of partnership with extraordinarily rich Saudi Arabian-led owners.

Instead Bruce has gained an almost certainly temporary stay of execution and will preside over his 1,000th match as a manager, praying that the advent of Newcastle’s Middle Eastern era will coincide with a first win for his struggling team.

If the new owners hope it will offer an unloved, if arguably underrated, manager a dignified send-off, Bruce is clearly willing the victory which would enable him to stick two, strictly metaphorical, fingers in the faces of his critics. “I’d love that, of course I would,” he conceded.

Covid protocols dictate that pre-match Premier League press conferences are still conducted virtually. Staged over Zoom, they can tend to be flat and unenlightening but Bruce’s address from Newcastle’s training ground proved a notably sparky exception.

“It hasn’t happened – what you all wanted,” said the 60-year-old, glaring into his computer screen. “I’m still here. I’ve tried to keep my dignity but it’s been difficult. I hope you guys [JOURNALISTS]are getting a slap from your bosses, getting a bit of heat. Whoever was feeding you information, they didn’t get it right, did they?

“You haven’t done your jobs properly. It’s not been easy preparing for Sunday with what’s been going on. What I cry out for is a bit of respect - no matter how difficult it is.”

Albeit inadvertently, Bruce had rather confirmed his lack of suitability to lead Newcastle’s impending revolution. He has previously acknowledged he expects to be sacked and a statement released yesterday by Amanda Staveley, the director responsible for running the club on a daily basis, hardly contradicted that likelihood.

“Change does not always happen overnight,” she said. “If we make any changes going forward Steve will be the first to know but, in the meantime, we wish him the best of luck in his 1,000th match as a manager.”

A near inevitable dismissal has quite possibly been slowed by a complicated chain of command involving Staveley and her fellow British director Jamie Reuben needing to have decisions signed off by Yasir al-Rumayyan, Newcastle’s Saudi-based nonexecutive chairman.

For his part Bruce proved suitably guarded about his sole meeting with Staveley and her husband, Mehrdad Ghodoussi – held at the training ground last Monday. “There were certain discussions that need to be private,” he said. “It was an informal 10-minute chat. They said ‘carry on’ and I will carry on until I hear otherwise.’”

A win against Tottenham may even permit him to hope against hope that the doubters could be confounded. “I’ll certainly do my utmost to make a fist of it,” he said. “I’m not going to give up, I’m quietly confident we’ll get a result against Spurs. I’ll have a crack. What manager wouldn’t want to be sitting in my chair now?”

Awful question

His mood was hardly improved by a reporter inquiring whether the generous £7m payoff clause he had agreed with Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s previous owner, meant he was privately holding out to be sacked rather than walking away. “That’s an awful question, that’s awful to say that I’m just hanging on waiting for my compensation,” Bruce retorted. “I’ve never been about money at all. I want to be the manager of Newcastle.”

He did, though, admit he had briefly considered resigning after finishing 13th in the summer of 2020 but stayed on to secure 12th place last term and is hoping to be part of a “monumental change” involving not only Newcastle’s footballers embarking on a trophy quest but hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in urgently needed local regeneration projects by the Saudi power brokers.

“They are very good people, they’re very decent people,” said Bruce of the owners. “Let’s not forget it’s a great thing which has just happened here, not just for Newcastle United but for the city too. I’ve seen the transformation of Manchester since the Manchester City takeover so it’s not just about the football club.”

A question about Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights record received short shrift. “That’s for the politicians,” he said. “But this takeover is something great for the city, the whole area and the people who live here. There’s an exciting few years ahead.” – Guardian

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