Prospects are traditionally very positive when possibilities are “endless,” but when discussing Newcastle United’s immediate future, the term evokes something closer to "boundless in any direction."
Reaction regarding the club’s presumed Premier League survival–they sit on 42 points with six games to play–has been understated amid ongoing talk of a takeover and a rather one-sided FA Cup quarter-final exit to Manchester City.
Those matters shouldn’t diminish Steve Bruce’s achievement in keeping Newcastle as part of the elite for at least one more season; if anything, they should galvanize faith in the job he’s done despite the noise.
Undefeated in their last six league games, growing confidence in the Magpies’ top-flight status—and in Bruce’s stewardship—should expedite a quicker sale out of Mike Ashley’s hands.
The Chronicle’s Ciaran Kelly recently wrote the Saudi consortium fronted by British businesswoman Amanda Staveley is still undergoing the Premier League’s fit-and-proper-person test, put in place to ensure owners and directors are credible before they can invest in clubs. The prospective buyers have been subject to allegations regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record but also for links to beoutQ, a pirate television broadcaster based in the country.
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters spoke to the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) on Tuesday and was hesitant to give any details regarding takeover talks:
There are other bids in contention to purchase the club, though there’s little doubt a takeover involving Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund presents the biggest potential upside in terms of outright investment. The country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), chairs the investment fund and is the de facto leader of a nation boasting around $34.4 trillion worth of natural resources, second only to China in the world economy.
Television magnate Henry Mauriss is another reported to have thrown his hat into the ring with a $434 million (£350 million) proposal to buy the club in mid-June. There have been few updates regarding the submission, though the American would be wise not to hold his breath given the Saudi takeover bid has been a controversial subject for many months.
So, where does Bruce fit in among all the talk of takeovers and the much-desired investment that should come shortly after? The heartless answer is most likely not at all, should some fans get their wish to target much more prestigious managers along with on-field personnel.
It isn’t as though Newcastle haven’t spent significant sums on their squad in recent years. Ashley has overseen three successive summer windows spending at least £40 million on new players—that figure even rose above £65 million in 2019—but the priority on remaining profitable has antagonised a fan base that grew accustomed to major title challenges in the not-too-distant past.
Football finance analyst Swiss Ramble illustrated Newcastle’s place as one of the Premier League’s most profitable clubs of the past nine years (up to the 2018-19 season’s accounts):
Funds have been made available to fill holes in the squad when painfully necessary, illustrated by their move to sign Joelinton from Hoffenheim for a club-record $50 million (£40 million) last year. Allan Saint-Maximin—signed for half the cost from Nice—has looked even more promising thus far. The scope for more talented players of that level to arrive in the future will only grow if targets feel there’s a higher chance the club will keep improving the squad in kind.
Any compassionate fan would want Bruce to succeed as part of that. A Newcastle fan born up the road in nearby Northumberland, this presents his best chance yet to show he belongs in the same breath as some of the best managers to have worked in the Premier League. Bruce is, in a way, the modern Newcastle in microcosm: a former great out to prove he’s not only still got it, but can write the best pages of his legacy to date, back at home in the northeast.
The risk from his perspective is that, depending on who assumes control of the club, a countdown will be placed on his tenure before a more fashionable name is recruited. Former Tottenham Hotspur chief Mauricio Pochettino has been linked with the managerial role post-takeover, while Bruce’s predecessor, Rafa Benitez, has also been rumored for a return to St. James’ Park.
Former defender-turned-England women’s manager, Phil Neville, recently suggested the current Newcastle are playing superior football to when Benitez was in charge. While many failed to agree with that notion—and rightly so—Bruce deserves credit for his ability to manage the Magpies into a more effective team with almost the same squad outline as Benitez, per TalkSport’s Adrian Durham:
Benitez—employed by Dalian Professional in the Chinese Super League—led Newcastle to 10th and 13th-place Premier League finishes in 2018 and 2019, respectively, his only full terms at the club. There’s every chance Bruce could still take the team higher before the end of this campaign based on current form, with only four points separating them from Arsenal in seventh.
The truth is there’s little value in comparing the two given all that’s taken place on and off the field in recent years. Between the transfers that worked out as planned and the ones that did not, ownership-based distractions and fan disillusion, Benitez deserved praise for his work in turning Newcastle around and taking them back up from the Championship–just as Bruce does for keeping them in the Premier League. Any manager might work wonders alongside a more stable regime that grants greater clarity from the top down, but the current boss has experience and a local link few other peers can boast.
Greater vision is required if the Magpies are to fight as part of England’s expanding upper crust in the near future, enacting a new era on par with the likes of Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers in recent years. Bruce’s ideas have evolved enough to illustrate he’s more than just another member among that rabble of older Premier League veterans, not to be demoted in the club’s annals alongside the likes of Sam Allardyce, Steve McClaren or Joe Kinnear.
Newcastle’s fanbase is unified in its efforts to rid itself of current owner Ashley at the earliest possible juncture, and Bruce deserves similar support to ensure he survives any takeover with a chance to oversee the rise that many hope will follow.