Undermined by fan protests, coaching arrivals and press leaks, Steve Bruce has now lost the dressing room and his job might well follow after bust-up with Matt Ritchie… the long list of problems are mounting up for beleaguered Newcastle boss
- Steve Bruce was involved in a sensational training ground bust-up on Tuesday
- The Newcastle United boss was involved in a heated exchange with Matt Ritchie
- Tempers boiled over after Bruce’s criticism of his players on Saturday evening
- It is the latest in a long line of issues that have plagued Bruce during the season
Steve Bruce’s Newcastle reign sank to new depths on Wednesday evening with the revelation of a training ground bust-up with Matt Ritchie.
As exclusively revealed by Sportsmail, the 60-year-old was involved in a heated row with the retired Scotland international, shoulder barging the winger in front of stunned team-mates after the player ad refused to visit him in his office.
It was the moment frustrations from a draining season finally boiled over – a moment of madness that has been months in the making after myriads of issues both on and off the field.
Here, Sportsmail looks at events throughout the campaign that have plagued the head coach, and possibly spelled an end to his time on Tyneside.
THAT training ground bust-up
There is simply nowhere else to start.
The details of the spat that engulfed Newcastle’s training session on Tuesday were both fascinating and entirely damaging.
Ritchie’s refusal to go to his coach’s office was an act of insubordination big enough to cause serious issues on its own, but he raised the stakes by labelling his boss a ‘coward’.
The fact that Bruce got physical, shoulder barging the 31-year-old, shows how much the words infuriated him. His own words also told a story. The Magpies boss was clearly astounded by the attack, leading him to say: ‘After all I’ve done for you.’
Steve Bruce was involved in a training ground row with Matt Ritchie (right) earlier this week
Ritchie received a new contract last season, but appeared to be pushing for a return to Bournemouth in January that never materialised. Saturday was the winger’s first appearance for the club since January 12.
It is a massive deterioration in a relationship that once appeared concrete at St James’ Park. Reporters have revealed before the enthusiasm with which Ritchie would defend his boss when questioned about tactical issues. That loyalty appears to have evaporated.
Ritchie did apologise, according to reports on Thursday morning, but with the squad taking the player’s side, it points to a perilous situation for Bruce.
With a crucial game away to strugglers West Brom this weekend, it is far from ideal preparation with just three points separating Newcastle and the relegation zone ahead of Fulham facing Tottenham on Thursday.
The fallout all came down to Bruce’s comments post-game following the 1-1 draw with Wolves.
Emerging from the bench, Ritchie did not have time to pass on instructions to both Isaac Hayden and Jacob Murphy as Jonjo Shelvey jumped the gun by taking a free-kick too quickly. It resulted in the Wolves equaliser.
Speaking to Sky Sports afterwards, Bruce singled the substitute out for not relaying the messages. A livid Ritchie called his boss on the phone after hearing the comments.
Bruce called out a number of his players for their part in Wolves’ equaliser on Saturday night
Bruce also called out three other individuals for the goal, with goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, Jamal Lewis and Joelinton all castigated for their role in Ruben Neves’s strike.
It was the second incident with the press that had angered players that week. The exclusive story in the Daily Telegraph announcing that Dubravka was set to replace Karl Darlow between the sticks appeared 72 hours before the latter was informed about the change.
Those in the squad had their suspicions that their head coach had leaked the information. The author of the piece has since denied the information came from the Magpies boss. Bruce has also denied he leaked the news.
It has all made for an atmosphere of mistrust around the squad, something that has destroyed team spirit.
A story in one paper revealed that Martin Dubravka (right) would replace Karl Darlow (left)
The Graeme Jones effect
One telling moment this season has perhaps done more than any other to undermine Bruce.
While most club’s looking over their shoulder would look towards a new signing to help improve form, Newcastle looked to a new coach.
To many, it was vindication of the criticism of the boss’s tactics, an admission that something needed to be changed on the preparation side of things – this was not the fault of the players.
Graeme Jones has taken some of the plaudits for strong performances since he arrived
While Bruce was undoubtedly delighted that Jones’s introduction brought with it an upturn in fortunes and a coherent style of play, the insinuation that all improvements were down to the former Belgium assistant rankled with him.
Jones’s activity on the sidelines during the 2-0 win over Everton was picked up upon, so too was his seat in the stands in the very next match against Leeds.
Questions in press conferences as to the 50-year-old’s role were met with defensive answers and a reiteration that he was ultimately responsible for any improvement.
While helping then, the appointment has proved something of a double-edged sword. Any improvement in attacking vigour and results have been credited to Jones’s impact, while defeats and errors are still laid squarely at the feet of the head coach.
Indeed, as reported on Wednesday evening, the squad now see the replacing of Bruce with Jones as head coach as the best approach to navigating the rest of the season.
Jones could be seen giving instructions to Ritchie before he came on to the pitch on Saturday
If the backing of the players has only just been lost, Bruce lost the faith of some fans a long time ago.
A vocal section of supporters have voiced their concerns as early of last season, insisting that results were papering over the cracks of a playing style that was unsustainable.
The way this season has unfolded appears to back those claims, and calls for Bruce to be removed from his position have grown louder.
It has resulted in protests outside the ground, with supporter group Wor Flags creating at least two banners against owner Mike Ashley, that also implicate Bruce’s role in the club’s demise.
Wor Flags, a Newcastle fan group, have protested outside the stadium using banners
The mood towards the head coach was made clear by fan reaction to the defeat by Manchester United last month.
After a dismal second half showing, fans jumped on Bruce’s demeanour as he walked down the tunnel at Old Trafford, laughing and smiling with United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Bruce defended his actions, insisting that the Norwegian was complimenting him on how his side had played.
Many fans though, are past the point of giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Some supporters voiced their frustration with Bruce’s immediate reaction to defeat at United
Playing ‘my way’
Bruce has had to contend with the spectre of Rafael Benitez and given his standing within the club and with fans, that was always going to be difficult.
A few of Bruce’s comments to the press – using the term ‘Mighty Rafa’ ironically for instance – has not helped to erase the comparisons between the two.
The Christmas period proved a horrific spell for the club, with defeat in the Carabao Cup quarter finals to Championship side Brentford proving the catalyst for an alarming slump in form.
The Carabao Cup quarter-final defeat at the hands of Brentford was a low point this season
Bruce attempted to arrest it by switching formation, dropping three at the back and fielding more attack-minded players. He insisted that the team were now doing things ‘my way’.
It was a puzzling statement that brought around many questions, the most prominent being who’s way had he been following beforehand.
Even more problematic was the fact that his changes did nothing to halt the slide. Declaring the changes before a limp defeat at Arsenal, they then floundered at Aston Villa.
There was a slight improvement in performance against Leeds, that ultimately still resulted in defeat, before Jones arrived.
With no real upturn in fortunes while on his own, belief in Bruce’s own ability has been questioned. While he had previously appeared a strong man manager, tactical deficiencies had hindered his reputation at Newcastle.
Now, with both sets of skills under scrutiny, his stock is falling fast.
Bruce insisted earlier this season that he was planning on playing ‘his way’ from now on
A full treatment room
Every club would struggle without their top goalscorer. All would be in serious trouble without their best three attackers.
That is the situation Newcastle find themselves in at the moment. The Wolves draw was not damaging for the result alone.
Injuries to both Allan Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron in the match saw both leave the field and both subsequently ruled out for the whole of March.
With Callum Wilson already out of action after picking up a hamstring problem against Southampton, Newcastle’s attacking options are severely depleted.
Allan Saint-Maximin is out until April after suffering an injury against Wolves on Saturday night
For crunch fixtures against West Brom, Aston Villa and Brighton, Bruce must make a tangible attacking threat from a combination of Dwight Gayle, Joelinton, Andy Carroll and Ryan Fraser.
The quartet have all under-performed this season, and can boast just three goals between them in the top flight.
At the other end of the pitch, injuries have been an issue too, though defensively players are coming back – with recent absentees Javier Manquillo and Federico Fernandez available.
The loss of Miguel Almiron (centre) was another sizeable blow to the club’s chances of survival
A club lacking leadership
‘What are you going to do? Tell Lee Charnley?’ That was one of Bruce’s fiery quips aimed at Ritchie during their bust up.
It is believed that it was in reference to a suspicion that players had gone behind his back to report unhappiness to the managing director.
If the players paid any attention however, it would be clear to them that most pleas to the top at Newcastle fall on deaf ears.
Charnley appeared at the training ground on Wednesday following the bust up. It is not clear what his attendance was in aid of.
Mike Ashley has left Lee Charnley (right) to take charge of day-to-day matters at the club
Mike Ashley is hellbent on selling up at St James’ Park, so much so that he has taken the Premier League to court over the failed takeover by Amanda Staveley’s Saudi-backed consortium.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the billionaire’s attentions are everywhere but St James’ Park, with Charnley left to run things. With no previous MD experience, learning on the job has been a hard task for him. The fact he is the lowest paid chief in the top flight by some distance is also testament to the lack of conviction he brings to the job.
All of this leaves the impression that Newcastle are floating aimlessly, rudderless as they drift towards their next destination, which on current form appears to be the Championship.
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