It is fair to say that Steve Bruce’s appointment at Newcastle United was not a popular one.
As the former Manchester United man settled into his 11th management role, the knives were out for him across Tyneside. As fan site Nothing But Newcastle demonstrated, it was not a welcomed move.
The reasons why were numerous. A two-year stint with Sunderland didn’t help, but Bruce was no stranger to playing both sides of a rivalry having been at Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. His record as a boss isn’t outstanding, with over 900 games in the dugout and a win percentage of less than 35%.
He also seemed to have slowly dripped down the divisions, seeing his Aston Villa tenure end after loaning out one of only two centre backs on the club’s books last season. He departed, and as a result they got promoted. His spell at Sheffield Wednesday was short but it did appear as though his chance of top-flight management had gone.
Football has a way of writing its own script and Bruce, an ardent Newcastle fan as a boy, arrived home in his own fairytale which fans felt was a nightmare.
As the weeks and months trickle by though, it’s becoming harder to suggest he wasn’t a decent appointment. Weathered by more than two decades as a manager, Bruce has applied all his experience to a job many felt he’d never get and somehow, it is working.
This year’s Premier League has been unpredictable and uncertain, with at least two of the ‘regular’ top six looking likely to finish lower. Arsenal have already vacated their place at the top table and despite a recent resurgence, Manchester United look set to do the same. When a club drops down, another moves up and as Newcastle defeated Man United in October, staunch members of the Toon Army were having to rethink their apathy.
They’ve seen themselves victorious against tough opposition in Spurs and West Ham, as well as putting together a run of one defeat in seven in the lead up to Christmas. A bwin Football: Southampton vs. Newcastle preview explained how a strong autumn period saw them move level on points with Arsenal.
He’s getting plaudits from his players too, Andy Carroll returned to his spiritual home in the summer and told The Guardian he felt Bruce was proving people wrong. In the space of 12 months, he’s gone from staring the end of career in the face after leaving Villa, to pushing Newcastle further up the table than the popular Rafa Benitez ever could.
Bruce might not have been popular when he first walked into the Toon, but what he does have is a passion for the club. In an age where Mike Ashley’s reign has led to protests and the need for the club to give away free season tickets, fans do have someone in power who genuinely cares for the club.
He might not have been first choice, he might not have even been in the top one hundred, but as 2020 rolls in he is certainly doing a decent job of taking Newcastle United away from the bottom of the table. In turn, he’s winning over a very tough set of fans and the club can only be better for it.