It’s a Saturday night in October and I’m watching the build-up to Newcastle vs Burnley. Steve Bruce has said something silly in his pre-match interview. My first instinct is to reach for my phone. ‘Look at what Brucey’s said now’, I put in a football WhatsApp group.
Then I’m on to Twitter where I retweet the quotes from Bruce’s pre-match interview.
“When you're head coach of Newcastle and you get beat, you expect criticism,” Bruce explains. “That's part of the parcel of it.”
PART OF THE PARCEL! – HAHAHAHAHA. He said ‘part of the parcel’, rather than ‘part AND parcel’, ahahahaha!
It’s really not that funny. But it’s very Bruce, he’s prone to a verbal trip-up. Not surprising really given the number of interviews he does in a typical week. He’s 59, in a high-pressured job and under the microscope with people (like me) ready to turn him into a meme at every opportunity.
I’m laughing to myself as I share the latest Brucism with mates and the internet. As I’m doing so, my girlfriend asks me: ‘Why are you always mean to Steve Bruce?’
It stops me in my tracks. I’m not really sure. So I think about it.
Maybe it’s because we were awful in the previous games and I’m annoyed at Bruce for that. Maybe it’s because I still wish Rafa was in charge, maybe it’s because Bruce didn’t change the team before the Brighton game. Maybe it’s because it’s October and we’ve only had three shots on target all season.
Maybe it’s a self-defence mechanism. Newcastle fans are often the first to poke fun at Bruce, is this to deflect embarrassment that the club let go of one of Europe’s top managers, and replaced him with an ex-Sunderland manager who was struggling to make Sheffield Wednesday competitive in The Championship?
If my dad says something stupid and we’re in front of other people, I might dive in and take the mick first, to deflect embarrassment. Am I embarrassed that Steve Bruce is in charge of my club? Maybe I am. I’d probably prefer him to be the Landlord at my local rather than in charge of my football club, if I’m being honest.
But does Steve Bruce deserve to have the micky taken out of him? No. Would he care? Probably not, but that’s not the point.
After Steve Bruce’s first six months at the club, I spoke to someone who has worked at Newcastle for decades. They confided: “He has an element of Sir Bobby about him.”
Elaborating, they explained that Bruce’s man-management skills were superb. He knew how to speak to everyone from the security men to the club captain. He makes them feel good, valued and that enables them to do their job effectively.
It’s a unique skill, not everyone has it. Rafa’s man-management has been called into question by high profile ex-players like Steven Gerrard.
While Bruce might have tactical deficiencies, he’s a renowned man-manager. It’s difficult to coach that on a UEFA B course. But it seems to be enough to make it at the highest level. Bruce has managed over 400 games in the Premier League.
Sir Bobby was world famous for misquotes. So much so, players like Alan Shearer speculated that he dropped them in on purpose to cut tense atmospheres and build camaraderie. Some Sir Bobby classics include:
“We didn’t underestimate them, but they were a lot better than we thought.”
“The first 90 minutes are the most important.”
“I’m not going to look beyond the semi-final, but I would love to lead Newcastle out at the final.”
If Steve Bruce came out with those, the internet would break. There would be a nastier tone to it too: ‘This guy shouldn’t be in charge of my club’, ‘He’s an embarrassment’, ‘He’s not qualified to managed us’, and worse.
Sadly, Steve Bruce has less credibility than Sir Bobby, so that makes him fair game in many fans’ eyes. Yet, if we met Bruce in the street, it would be all selfies and banter, and Bruce being Bruce, would be as good as gold with it all.
A look at my Twitter timeline tells you I’m as guilty as anyone for Bruce-bashing. My favourite one at the minute is counting how many times Bruce says ‘Roll wor sleeves up’, and how he often interrupts interviewers before they finish asking him. (Look out for that one during his next interview!)
Maybe I need to reign it in? In the current climate, it can’t hurt to be a bit nicer. Sadly, social media temptation gets the better of people, the prospect of a viral tweet has me reaching for the phone every time.
I’ll try to lay off Steve Bruce a bit going forward, but he needs to make it easier for me by working out his formation, his best starting XI and making use of the most talented squad we’ve had since 2012.
Steve, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for taking the mick sometimes. I really don’t mean it. But like you say, it’s just part of the parcel of being Newcastle United’s manager.