One of the main issues Steve Bruce has had to contend with during his time at the helm of St James’ Park has been something entirely out of his control, the previous manager. Rafael Benitez offered hope to a fanbase which appeared to have all but given up, the ‘Rafalution’ was televised, but it did not plan out as anyone had hoped.
When he left the club over the summer, the two time La Liga and Champions League-winning manager said the club did not share his “vision”, in truth, there was just one man who didn’t share his vision, owner Mike Ashley. A year on and many fans, and pundits alike, are clinging on to Benitez’s vision, and it seems though most cannot mention Bruce without comparing him to the man who sat in the dugout before him.
One more win would see Bruce equal the Spanish tactician’s record haul of 45 Premier League points, even if he does though, it is unfair to compare the two given the everchanging circumstances on Tyneside. Benitez was dealing with a squad which he had won promotion with and had to re-establish the Toon in the Premier League, while Bruce has had to contend with endless takeover murmurs and other issues.
Comparing the two managers is not accurate or fair on Bruce, who should be commended for his achievements this term without having to justify his points tally or position against his predecessor. The Spaniard may be much missed by fans but persistently looking backwards is unhealthy and unhelpful to the current man at the helm.
When he arrived, Bruce was labelled as “unambitious”, and if you were to compare his and Benitez’s CV, it is probably correct, given the current boss has never lifted silverware since hanging up his boots. Even so, the former Sunderland manager has steadied Newcastle’s ship throughout an incredibly challenging season, and the Magpies have not been in the bottom three since October.
Avoiding relegation is an incredibly low barometer for success, but given the two Championship seasons under Mike Ashley’s chairmanship, it is an apt one. Surviving is the minimum expectation, and it is something Bruce achieved with six matches to spare.
Next term, Bruce must be allowed to mould this squad in his image without constant references to the man who occupied his position before him. He has shown more than enough in his first season to suggest that if the squad can stay injury-free and make one or two additions, Newcastle could make some genuine progress.