BRUCE’S SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS
Steve Bruce is a big fan of experience. Here he is on Chris Samba, who he had at Aston Villa a few years back: “It’s not easy filling John Terry’s boots, but he’s got that experience and knowhow.” Here he is on signing Terry and Glenn Whelan: “They have been there. They are experienced Premier League players. Glenn knows what it is all about, how to handle it, how to handle playing at a big stadium.” Here he is on another of his players at Villa, Mark Bunn. “He gives you the experience that he’s got. Mark has given us that vital experience which can obviously help us.” Here he is talking about Andy Carroll last year: “Can he be a leading light and help me in the dressing room to let them understand Newcastle and what it’s like to play for Newcastle? He’s got that experience in abundance.” Here he is on bringing Andy Cole to Birmingham in 2007: “He’s got that experience where I had to take a gamble. Him coming in is an addition. Hopefully he can give us that experience.” Here he is on himself: “I’ve been in this position before and been successful so the experience helps you. I think we’ve got the right experience.”
The right experience. That’s an interesting little phrase. Bruce doesn’t value just any old experience, it’s a specific type of experience he’s after. If you want a player who knows what it is all about, how to handle playing at a big stadium, you sign a John Terry or a Glenn Whelan. It’s a simple enough equation when you think about it. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven where George Clooney’s maverick criminal mastermind Danny Ocean puts together a squad of people with very specific experience – a pickpocket, a mechanic, an acrobat, an um, other heist-related specialism – for a specific job. As in fictional crime capers, so in football: if you want to compete for the title, you’ll probably need at least a few players with experience of competing for titles. If you want to excel in Europe, you’ll need a handful of players who have excelled in Europe. If you put together a squad of players who have been relegated from the Premier League, you’re probably trying to get … er … hang on a minute.
To an existing pool of Karl Darlow, Jamaal Lascelles, Paul Dummett, Ciaran Clark and Andy Carroll, Bruce’s Newcastle on Monday added Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, and now have Jamal Lewis undergoing a medical, all of them previous top-flight relegatees. Jonjo Shelvey got halfway to joining that club too, only to be snaffled from Swansea before their relegation could be confirmed. It seems a strange thing to specifically build a squad around, but then Fiver isn’t a crack top-flight manager. Perhaps they were only involved in relegation in a very specific and limited way.
It’s hard to think what else exactly their scouts have spotted here. There’s Wilson, who if you discount the rogue good year of 2018-19 has scored 27 and created six Premier League goals in 96 appearances over four seasons, is halfway through his 29th year, is statistically only three times more likely to create a top-flight goal than he is to suffer a ruptured cruciate ligament, and still cost £20m. There’s Fraser, who is only 26 and was, to be fair, free but if you discount that same rogue year when – and Fiver’s got an inkling it might be this that Newcastle are keen on – he and Wilson regularly ripped Premier League defences to miserable shreds has scored nine and created 15 in 82 top-flight appearances over three seasons. And finally there’s Lewis, who’s costing £15m but is an extremely promising full-back with a lot of games under his belt for a mere 22-year-old. Is Bruce putting together a squad with “the right experience”? We’ll find out soon enough*.
* in nine months.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“So many people feel there’s no solution to the world’s problems, but Forest Green are already doing plenty – and showing others the way. I’m so excited to be part of the FGR family. I’ll be helping where I can, supporting people who want to change the world for the better” – Arsenal eco-warrior Héctor Bellerín, who recently raised enough cash to plant 60,000 trees in the Amazon rainforest, has now gone and invested £250,000 in everyone’s favourite environmentally friendly football club.
“So, let me get this straight, Foden and Greenwood broke protocol by entertaining a pair of young Icelandic ladies in their hotel room. And their so-called punishment is that they are to fly straight home, without having to hang out in the England biosecure bubble and participate in another glorified friendly before the start of the Premier League season? I’m sure they deeply regret their terrible mistake” – Gary Bartley.
“So Messrs. Foden and Greenwood flew flight DO1 back to Blighty? (Monday’s Fiver). A quick perusal of an online database shows that the airline with the two-letter code DO is the Dominican Republic-based Sky High Aviation Services. Methinks the lads had a different idea for their post-match cool down” – Mike Wilner.
“Just want to lob this definition back to John Szparaga (Monday’s Fiver). A lob only needs to go in a high arc, and it doesn’t have to sail over his head” – Matthew Keeler.
It’s David Squires stealing a march on our hacks by giving us some things to look out for in the new Premier League season.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Mason Greenwood is sorry for playing fast and loose with Covid-19 rules by offering local women the chance to marvel at the sparseness of his England hotel room in Iceland. “I can only apologise to everyone for the embarrassment I have caused. It was irresponsible of me,” sniffed the young scamp.
Lucy Bronze has rejoined Manchester City after scooping gongs galore in two seasons at all-conquering Lyon – and she’s been unlucky enough to be named in Big Phil Neville’s England training camp alongside newbies such as Niamh Charles and Katie Zelem.
Everton have completed the signing of 2014’s James/Hames/Hamez Rodríguez from Real Madrid for around £20m. It’s not going to end well, is it? Meanwhile, Aston Villa are close to completing a club-record £28m splurge for Brentford’s Ollie Watkins.
New Norn Iron boss Ian Barraclough was left starry-eyed after watching Norway goal-monster Erling Braut Haaland tear his side apart in their 5-1 Nations League hammering. “They were ruthless. Haaland is a £100m player, isn’t he?” he cooed.
Manchester United have released a third kit so garish it will give you a migraine if you stare at it for more than five seconds. The PR guff says it “celebrates the club’s DNA” and “110 years of stripes” but makes no mention of zebras.
And Ricardo Quaresma has been given the kind of understated welcome you’d expect for such a modest man at his new club Vitória.
Get your ears around the latest episode of Football Weekly.
STILL WANT MORE?
Nice guy Gareth got the balance wrong by defending Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, reckons David Hytner. But Barney Ronay is of the opinion that we should cut the kids some slack over their bubble breach.
Australia’s flamin’ foreign legion are beginning to prove their worth in the WSL, writes Samantha Lewis.
The transfer window is working for young, free and single footballers, so says Gavin Willacy.
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