With the imminent takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian-led consortium worth an estimated $320 billion, the new owners should sack current manager Steve Bruce and replace him with former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, writes Tom Clabon.
Why sack Steve Bruce?
Whilst Bruce has done a credible job since his appointment in September – with Newcastle in 13th on 25 points – an examination of the attacking statistics of the Magpies this season will show that all is not as well under Bruce.
Newcastle have only scored 25 goals this season, the joint-lowest in the whole division alongside Norwich City. In addition, they have had the fewest shots in the Premier League with 247, along with the fewest touches in the opposition’s box so far. Add this to Newcastle having the lowest possession average of 34.4%, and it is fair to say that Bruce’s football this season has not been the most easy on the eye.
It is clear that seemingly imminent owners House of Saud will want their latest asset to do more than ‘keep it tight at the back’. Like all wealthy, billionaire-owners who have purchased English football clubs in the past, they are investing to play attractive free-flowing football and win major trophies, something which has eluded Bruce thus far in his managerial career.
Bruce’s prior recruits over the last nineteen years of his managerial career have shown that he hasn’t got a history of securing shrewd signings. Bruce has spent large sums on players who haven’t consistently delivered for their respective teams, such as the £6.25 million signing of Emile Heskey, the £12 million fee for fellow striker Connor Wickham, or £9 million signing Scott Hogan. These three players have scored a mere 32 goals between them over 140 games for Bruce.
Bruce’s most recent acquisition of Joelinton, who cost Newcastle a whopping £40 million, has scored just 1 Premier League goal in 29 matches to date. This transfer alone demonstrates that Bruce cannot be trusted to efficiently spend the financial war chest the manager of Newcastle will inevitably be gifted come the summer transfer window.
When looking at his managerial record, it is clear that Bruce cannot be trusted to propel Newcastle to the top half of the Premier League table. Bruce was relegated with Birmingham and Hull City in 2006 and 2015 respectively. His highest Premier League final positions are 10th with Birmingham in 2004 and Sunderland in 2011. Further, the supposed ‘Championship Expert’ failed to promoted Aston Villa in 2018, despite having layers such as John Terry, Jack Grealish and Tammy Abraham at his disposal. This grim history provides little evidence that Bruce can take Newcastle to the next level.
So why Pochettino?
Despite being 11 years younger than Bruce, Pochettino has already achieved far more in the game. Pochettino reached the Champions League final and League Cup final, as well as the FA Cup semi-final on three occasions, during his five year tenure at Spurs. He was also able to finish in the top four on four occasions, securing a 2nd placed finish in 2017.
The Argentinian has an unrivalled record from his Tottenham days of promoting young players and getting the best out of them, with current England captain and Spurs striker Harry Kane the most prominent example. Pochettino must take credit for Kane’s red-hot form over the last five seasons. Pochettino’s faith, mentoring and training undoubtedly paid off; Kane has since scored 133 goals in 197 games, winning the Premier League Golden Boot in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Pochettino’s record of promoting young players and successfully building a world-class team over a number of years via the signing of good prospects for modest fees is also exemplary. The success achieved by the signing of Delle Alli and Eric Dier from MK Dons and Sporting Lisbon for a collective fee of £9 million are testimony to this. This successful record can even be seen as far back as Pochettino’s Southampton days when he signed Dejan Lovren and Victor Wanyama for a combined fee of £21 million, players who would go on to play Champions League finals and win major trophies. Not to mention the signing of Kieran Trippier in 2015 for £3.5 million, a right-back from Burnley who would go on to play at Atletico Madrid.
Pochettino has also shown that he has got the right temperament and judgement for purchasing quality players as part of building a top-quality team. This is a quality that Newcastle’s owners will be looking for, considering Newcastle’s current first team require a radical overhaul if they are to climb into the top half of the table. This is evidenced in the signing of Son Heung-min from Bayern Leverkusen in 2015, for a fee of £22 million. Son has enhanced his already-credible reputation by scoring 80 goals in all domestic and European competitions under Pochettino. Son’s most vital goals included his heroic hat-trick which knocked out Man City in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2018-19.
Even without recruits in the summer of 2018 and winter of 2019, Spurs were able to reach the Champions League final. Spurs’ five-year net spend of £94.6 million is well short of the £505.6 million spent by Man City, £378.9 million of Man United, and £133.3 million of Chelsea in the same period. Such teams have been unable to replicate Spurs’ European progression, despite their financial muscle.
Pochettino is a universally respected coach in Europe, and, due to his success, has been linked to the likes of Real Madrid. Newcastle themselves have been linked with world class players such as Gareth Bale, Edison Cavani and Dries Mertens amid the takeover of the Saudi-led consortium. With all respect, there is little doubt that such talents would not be interest in joining this exciting North-East project if Bruce was at the helm.
While football pundits Jamie Redknapp and Tim Sherwood have argued that Bruce deserves ‘respect’ and a ‘chance’ under the new Saudi-led Consortium, football is ultimately a business, with little room for sentiment: the House of Saud want to buy Newcastle United because they want progress up the league and win trophies. While Steve Bruce has done a commendable job in steering Newcastle to 13th, his managerial record suggests that he won’t be able to take them much higher, thus it would be criminal for the new Newcastle owners not sack Bruce and replace him with Pochettino. The new owners must show a ruthless business-like ambition, if they want awaken the sleeping giants of the North-East.