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Newcastle United's new manager Steve Bruce has a human touch which might just do the impossible with owner Mike Ashley

Luke Edwards
Steve Bruce who reconnects with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley - CameraSport

So much of football management is about perceptions and Nwecatle United's new manager Steve Bruce has always laboured under the assumption he is an old-school boss with old-fashioned ideas.

He is not the only British manager of a certain vintage to have been written off like that by those who believe the best ideas are always the ones that come from the young and fashionable.

So is he the dinosaur critics label him?

Bruce’s style of football has been criticised at previous clubs, it has been dubbed one-dimensional, unattractive and unambitious and it will be fascinating to see how he approaches things at Newcastle, who instinctively prefer an attacking approach.

The Magpies were a cautious, defensive side that produced its most effective offensive play on the counter under Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard, though, was never criticised for the style of play and was instead lauded for his tactical brilliance by an adoring public on Tyneside

When manager of Hull City, Steve Bruce would play regularly in a 3-5-2 formation Credit: ap

Bruce will not be the cut the same slack, yet he is not the tactical Neanderthal he has been made out to be by some.

“When I was with him at Hull City, we played in a number of different formations and we were one of the first clubs in England to play regularly in a 3-5-2 formation under Bruce,” explained former goalkeeper Steve Harper.

“He is certainly not the dinosaur he has been labelled, that is incredibly unfair. You do not last as long in management as he has done without being able to adapt, to take on new ideas and change the way you play. The game has changed a huge amount in my 26 years in the game and I’ve been fortunate to play under some excellent managers and Steve was one of the best.

“He also has Steve Agnew as one of his coaches and he is also one of the best in the business. I think people will be surprised by what he does at Newcastle.”

How will he get on with Mike Ashley?

Asked during his time at Hull City, shortly after he had got the club promoted to the Premier League, Bruce was asked what the biggest lessons he had learnt in management.

His answer was illuminating: “I think the most important thing I understand now that I didn’t when I was young and hot-headed, is you have to be able to manage up as well as down.

“Your relationship with your players is obviously the most important thing, but you have to get on with the people above you. There has to be a shared idea of where you want the club to go and you have to understand what the owner wants from you. If you have that, you tend to have a club which is pulling in the same direction and that makes everything easier.”

Steve Bruce's biggest challenge will be to keep Mike Ashley (pictured) happy Credit: afp

Bruce has a natural ability to get on with people and has a human touch lacking in a lot of managers. He also has the sort of sense of humour that will endear him to somebody like Ashley.

Do not expect to see them power drinking together in a London pub, but Bruce might be the only manager who can construct a strong personal relationship with Ashley. The billionaire needs to rekindle some enthusiasm and Bruce, who will be willing to go for a pint with him if that is what Ashley likes to do, might just be the man who can do what no other has been able so far – he could make Ashley care again. It is a long shot, but he can at least try.

What are his biggest strengths as a manager?

Those who have played for him and thrived all say the same thing - he is kind, generous and understanding of what players need, but you do not want to get on the wrong side because there is a sharp edge to him when it is needed.

You do not become Sir Alex Ferguson’s captain at Manchester United without sharing some of the Scot’s personality traits and Bruce will not be afraid to challenge those who under-perform or abuse his trust.

That approach is not his default setting, though, and his man-management skills are generally thought to be his main quality.

Steve Bruce has strong man-management skills Credit: getty images

“He has a human touch and he understands players,” added Harper. “I remember when he dropped me from the team to play in the FA Cup Final in 2014. I’d played in every round up to that point and it was a really difficult thing to accept.

“But I remember him taking the time to explain the decision, we sat and talked it through. It didn’t make it easier as such, but it did soften the blow. There are managers out there – some I’ve played for – who would just pin the team on the wall, who were so cold and clinical, they never explained anything to you. Steve is not like that.”

What problems does he face at Newcastle?

They are numerous. He is working for an owner who has repeatedly harmed Newcastle’s chances of competing at the top end of the table with his lack of ambition and stubbornness, an owner who has failed previous managers and betrayed their trust in the transfer market. He is aloof, disengaged and utterly ambivalent to public opinion – which is why he was willing to appoint Bruce even though it was clear it was such an unpopular choice. Ashley has been a terrible Newcastle owner, a persistent cause of anger and frustration, and is unlikely to change.

Steve Bruce must win over the Newcastle fans Credit: getty images

On top of that, a large section of Newcastle fans simply do not want Bruce as manager and are already labelling it a terrible appointment, which will lead to relegation to the Championship. Bruce is walking into a toxic atmosphere to serve a public who do not believe he is good enough. The fallout from Benitez’s departure could poison things for months.

Finally, Bruce inherits a squad that has lost two thirds of its goals from last season, with Salomon Rondon joining Benitez in China and Ayoze Perez sold to Leicester City for £30m. The transfer window shuts in 22 days and Newcastle have not signed a single player. They need at least two strikers, probably three if they want cover, a full-back, a winger and maybe a central midfield player too. Time is against them, but if they do not strengthen the squad significantly, they will be in real danger of relegation. It will be Bruce who takes the blame too.