A good Newcastle United manager or a lucky one?

An interesting debate was unintentionally raised by some contributors on The Mag today, wondering what sort of quality or trait would you rather have in a Newcastle United manager?

Would you rather they be a good manager or a lucky manager?

I have made no secret of my dislike of Steve Bruce as Newcastle United manager and it stems from when he was first mooted as potential Newcastle United manager back when Sir Bobby Robson got sacked, not some recent irrational hate, or the fact he was manager down the road at the unwashed.

So I don’t want to go into that debate as it does tend to get boring but (certainly based on his time so far at St James Park) Bruce  falls into two distinct brackets of manager, in that he carries an awful lot of luck but that overall he’s not very good. I won’t say he’s a terrible manager, others can debate that, but he doesn’t help himself with both squad and fitness issues and those are VERY crucial areas.

Last night against Blackburn Rovers (which I didn’t see) the stats were a familiar story of little dominance and moribund play but hey, we kept a clean sheet and scored a goal to win the game, which is the be all and end all, so Steve Bruce could quite rightly tell me to stuff my opinion.

However, looking at the stats (Blackburn had more shots (14 v 5), more corners (10 v 3) and more possession (64% v 34%) should ring a few alarm bells and the team selection should be a warning sign of trouble ahead. You might be able to get away with the stats and the selection against a Championship side (just) but this has a worrying foreshadowing of a troubled season.

A quick mention about the selection, what the hell was the idea playing three right-backs in the back four? Why so many changes? Can we not get a settled side together so that they get to know each other’s game and build a, you know, team? The man in charge can’t blame a lack of squad depth. Alright, he can and will at some point, but you and I know it’s a load of rubbish.

Cast your minds back to Sir Bobby Robson’s time at Newcastle. He didn’t have a massive squad to pick from and he did a cracking job. Take the 2002/03 and 2003/04 seasons as examples. Many of the players made 30+ appearances, some making well over 40 as the club battled it out in both domestic and European competitions. Alan Shearer and Gary Speed made well over 50 games each in 03/04 and they were no young pups. The side as a consequence made epic European runs and finished 3rd and 5th. I would label Sir Bobby as one of the best blends of quality managers with a bit of luck thrown in and his win percentage while with us was up there to prove it.

But as I digress, the question must arise of would you rather have a good Newcastle United manager or a lucky one?

I always bring up one Newcastle United reference with regards to luck. Back in the mid 1990s, when Kevin Keegan was teaching us that football could be a thing of beauty rather than the game of chess like it seems to be today, his Newcastle side were riding high, so high that we had gone 12 points clear in the Premier League. Now we all know what happened there but two games stand out for me as watershed moments. In March 1996 we took on Manchester United at St James Park and it’s not unfair to say that we played Fergie’s mob off the park, especially in the first half, only for Eric Cantona to pop up early in the 2nd half and steal the winner. Lucky buggers.

If one of our many chances had gone in we were highly likely to win the league because at the time we’d beaten our nearest rivals and gone seven points clear with a game in hand. Fast forward to October of the same year and we trounced Manchester United at St James’ in another game where we bested the red half of Manchester at football but crucially got that famous 5-0 win at the second time of asking. Pity it wasn’t seven months earlier. Manchester United carried their luck in that first game and it worked out well for them. The fact that we won neither title those two years was particularly crushing for all our good play.

I suppose the true answer to the question I ask, is you obviously need a good manager with a sprinkling of luck along the way to help out. No team has won anything without a rub of the green every now and then, much like that Manchester United side of 1996.

I’m sure there are some out there that want the manager/club to lose and fail to hasten the departure of Mike Ashley.

I can’t say I subscribe to that extreme, because it’s a flawed logic and not a sure fire way to get rid of the owner anyway but what I do know is the club is not in good hands with either the current owner, nor the current manager. What irks me somewhat and I’m sure I’m not alone, is when someone who isn’t talented but gets by through sheer luck (blagging it) whereas someone who is good at what they do and puts the graft in but end up not being as successful because they are simply unlucky. That’s true of life outside of football as well. No one likes a jammy so and so who always seems to smell of roses no matter how much s.it they tread in.

Last season we rode our luck with outstanding goalkeeping performances, defenders scoring more goals than the strikers and unbelievable last minute points salvaged. In the cups, we struggled to beat two league one sides over four games and once we played a good side, that was game over. That was luck playing its part and as soon as the luck ran out, we went on an horrendous run in no small part to the Newcastle United manager not being up to it and hamstringing himself and the team through poor squad and fitness management.

If you have a bad manager but one who is blessed with copious amounts of luck, when the luck eventually runs out you end up relying on the bare bones of the manager’s abilities and as twenty odd years of evidence shows, ours has none.

The true test he will face is getting safe in the Premier League as soon as possible, which I’ve stated this summer he will manage to do IF his luck holds out…

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