Why Newcastle Must Hit The Ground Running Under Steve Bruce
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Newcastle United have just signed a £40 million Brazilian centre-forward, Joelinton, little more than a week after they appointed a new manager in Steve Bruce.
It was the second time this year they have broken their transfer record.
So naturally enough, it’s all doom and gloom among the club’s supporters, many of whom fear they may be heading for relegation again under the controversial ownership of Mike Ashley.
What an odd and endlessly perplexing situation exists at St James’s Park. It promises to be one of the headline-making flashpoints of the new campaign if Bruce doesn’t get things right early on.
Elsewhere, the changes at The Toon might be cause for optimism. And these only six months after the £21 million signing of Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron.
Yet, somehow, the big guns of the division in Manchester, Liverpool and London are able to dominate the English game while giving barely a thought to the sleeping giant in their midst. And few people are expecting any change soon.
The appointment of new boss Bruce – a Geordie and a boyhood supporter of the team which is exactly what the fans so often cry out for – has been hugely unpopular.
Of course, his Spanish predecessor, Rafael Benitez, wasn’t a local. But the supporters loved him and they are consumed with anger in their belief that owner Ashley effectively forced him to walk away by not backing his plans.
Meanwhile, the big summer signing of Joelinton, a forward who arrived this week from Hoffenheim as Bruce’s first capture, appears to have done little to lift the mood.
Premier League Relegation Odds
So just like the majority of the supporters, the bookies also seem to believe the Toon are in for a struggle in the coming season, making them fifth favourites across the board to go down.
In the Premier League outright betting markets, they are 2/1 (+200) to fall through the net with Ladbrokes, William Hill and PaddyPower.
It’s a close-run thing between Newcastle and newly-promoted Aston Villa after their £100 million spending spree, with Betfred, for example, pricing them at 9/4 (+225).
The other new arrivals, Sheffield United and Norwich City, are the favourite tips for the drop. Then it’s Burnley and Brighton fancied for a tight battle with Newcastle.
At Bet365, the Blades are 4/6 (-150) for the drop while at Ladbrokes, its 8/13 (-162).
Norwich are then 10/11 (-110) with Coral, Betway and Betfred.
For Burnley to tumble, it’s 2/1 (+200) with Paddy Power and William Hill.
Brighton are 15/8 (+188) with Bet365 and 9/5 (+180) with Unibet.
Newcastle’s huge following believes they shouldn’t be keeping such unfancied company at all and that their size, potential and history means they ought to be troubling the analysts up at the other end of the table.
Yes, it makes sense that – and this is not intended disrespectfully – that the Blades are rated the most likely side to be relegated, with Norwich close behind.
There is a huge adjustment making the step up and United have been out of the top flight since 2007, while Norwich lasted just one campaign back in 2015-16.
Burnley, against the odds, have now lasted three seasons back in the elite division – and finished 15th last season, six points clear of trouble.
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They, too, however were previously a case in point proving how difficult it is for smaller clubs to establish that claw-hold in the Premier League.
They lasted just one season in 2009-10 and again endured for just one campaign in 2014-15 before manager Sean Dyche got them more firmly secured following another promotion back to the top in 2015-16.
Brighton, meanwhile, flirted dangerously with the drop towards the end of last season – with boss Chris Hughton eventually being sacked – and go into the new campaign with a rookie Premier League manager in Graham Potter.
Bruce Must Win Over Fans
At Newcastle, the fact that Bruce is from the Geordie football hotbed of Wallsend seems to have earned him no credit at all with the North East public.
The purchase of Joelinton, meanwhile, is being set against the fact that the club has lost striker Salomon Rondon after a successful spell on loan from WBA last season and has also lost the impressive Spanish forward Ayoze Perez to Leicester City.
Bruce’s lukewarm reception is partly due to the fact that he previously managed Sunderland. And partly because many fans believe his track record doesn’t warrant his appointment.
He may surprise them. It was no mean feat for him to lead both Birmingham City and Hull City to promotion to the Premier League twice each – and to take Hull to the 2014 FA Cup final.
And Newcastle offers him the biggest opportunity of his managerial career – given that Aston Villa, a club of similar stature, were in the Championship when he took charge in 2016.
But the supporters are certainly not impressed by the fact that the bookies give Bournemouth, Southampton and Crystal Palace a better chance of staying up.
Watford and Palace both finished above Newcastle’s 13th place last season. Bournemouth, a place below, equalled their points tally of 45.
With the public mood around Newcastle so foul, its plain to see at this stage why those three are better-fancied to survive.
It’s feasible, too, that Sheffield United under their shrewd and inspirational boss Chris Wilder and with some clever new signings, will surprise a few people.
So it’s understandable that many believe Newcastle face a dogfight.
The key is for Bruce to lift the mood quickly. Otherwise, it could be a torrid winter on Tyneside.
About the Author
John Dillon is a freelance sports journalist covering, among other things, boxing and football. His work has appeared in The London Evening Standard, USA Today, NPR, The Sun, Daily Express, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Bleacher Report, Yahoo and more.