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Steve Bruce gave an explosive press conference on Friday morning before Newcastle United’s relegation showdown with West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
In a defence of his reputation, he attempted to explain his training ground bust-up with Matt Ritchie, explained his reasons for banning the journalist who wrote the story and spoke about the search for the person responsible for the leak.
As well as expressing his confidence that Newcastle will win their battle for survival, Bruce defended the decision to give the players three days off in the build-up to the West Brom game and insisted he will still be head coach at the start of next season,
Telegraph Sport takes an in-depth look at the key things Bruce said, and what impact the comments will have on Newcastle's relegation battle and his own job security.
Steve Bruce: “Look, there's no denying that I've had a row with Matt Ritchie, but let me tell you that happens up and down training grounds every other week.
“You're dealing with 25 men, emotions run high, fiercely competitive – these things happen unfortunately, and unfortunately for us with Newcastle, of course it gets blown to all sort of proportions.
“Matty apologised, as far as we're concerned and me personally, it's over. As I said, it happens, unfortunately, on a regular basis, but ours leaks into the media, which obviously causes the frenzy.
“Unfortunately at this particular time when we've got a big game coming up, we would do without it. As far as I'm concerned it's over and we get on with it.
“I will have to say one thing, though: the story surrounding Karl Darlow, that I would go to a journalist and give them an exclusive that he wouldn't be playing at the weekend, I find totally disgusting.
“If I thought I would do that, I would resign tomorrow. It's simply not true, it's unfair on Karl and arguably over the last 18 months that's been the most difficult decision I've had to make.
“Yes, he's got the story right that I've had a row or an argument with a player; the rest of it is totally, utterly nonsense. We have to draw a line under it and move on.
“It [the leak] has to be, unfortunately it has to be, so that is the biggest disappointment to us all, and unfortunately it happens a bit too often. We'll try our utmost to see who it is.”
Telegraph Sport verdict: Bruce is correct to say these incidents do occur regularly up and down the country, but the problem he has is why was it leaked. As revealed by Telegraph Sport the incident has sparked a civil war at St James’ Park between players loyal to Bruce and those who appear keen to undermine him. Bruce also confirmed Telegraph Sport did not get the story about Darlow being replaced from him. His anger on this subject was clear.
Bruce: “You're asked after the game and I tried to be truthful and give the events the way I saw it [Bruce was critical of Ritchie's role in the build-up to Wolves' late equaliser]. In hindsight, maybe not. But as I said, straight after a game when you've just conceded the way we did… Yes, I could have been better in the post-match interview, I'll accept that.”
Verdict: Ritchie has been a peripheral figure for several months and has been agitating to leave for some time, only to be denied a return to former club Bournemouth because Newcastle could not sign a replacement.He has always been a volatile character but sources have confirmed Bruce’s version of events and the fact the manager has admitted he was wrong to publicly criticise Ritchie’s role in the Wolves equaliser should play well in the dressing room, even with those who are allegedly against him.
Bruce: “Now it is bordering on ridiculous. Look, we set the schedule last month with the doctors and sports scientists. The playing schedule this year has been totally ridiculous – we didn't have a day off for something like six weeks – so I don't even have to respond to that because I just find that an absolutely absurd and obscene suggestion [that players had had too many days off]. It's laughable, but it makes a national newspaper headline again. It's just ridiculous.”
Verdict: Given Newcastle have lost their three best attacking players – Callum Wilson, Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin to injuries related to fatigue is key here. Other Premier League clubs are also suffering badly with fatigue-related breakdowns. The decision to have three days off will have been taken by medical staff and the sport scientists, with Bruce’s agreement. Given the enormity of the game at West Brom, though, could the squad not have come in for a tactical meeting?
Bruce: “Whatever happens here, I try to keep it under wraps. We'll have a conversation. Whether it's in the training ground or whatever, we'll have a conversation about it, of course.”
Verdict: Several players loyal to Bruce are understood to still be seething that one of their colleagues has leaked the story of the bust-up and are angrier than he is. Given the colourful details, with quotes, that appeared in the story it is believed it must be one of the players or staff as the quotes appear to have come from an eye-witness.A team meeting was due to take place on Friday morning, which is likely to have been heated, but these things can clear the air and actually galvanise a team. That is what happened this time last year when similar claims were made in a story about Bruce falling out with Saint-Maximin, which both parties denied.
“Do I feel like walking away? Definitely not. Not at all. More than ever, I’m 100 per cent committed to trying to get us out of the trouble we’re in. I think the players are too. I’ve got 100 per cent faith in them, and I think that remains vital to us. So, no, just because things get tough [I won’t walk away].
“I sincerely hope so [that I will be at the club next season], but that’s for others to decide. What’s gone at the football club, let me tell you, and it’s vitally important you all understand it: Look, a bust-up unfortunately makes huge, huge headlines in Newcastle. The disappointing thing for me personally, and the club, is that unfortunately the so-called journalist has got a source. Fair enough, but to try and derail us and cause all this noise before a big game, we could do without it. These things happen in football clubs. But I am determined to crack on and stay with it. I’m never going to walk away from it and accept the challenge of how difficult it is to manage Newcastle.”
Verdict: This was arguably the most defiant part of Bruce’s press conference and confirms he will not resign as he still believes he has the backing of the vast majority of players under him. The proof will be in the performance against West Brom.
Bruce: “Is it a must win? We would like to win. I don’t think you can put it as a must win. You know, talking about a tough week and all the rest of it and I’ve had a row with a player...
“Look, we have to remain focused and getting on with the job in hand which is now West Brom on Sunday, can we go there and get result? Yes it would be great if we can and we will do our best and I will make sure we do.”
Verdict: This felt evasive and disingenuous. If Newcastle cannot beat one of only three teams below them in the table, of course Bruce’s position must be under threat. If it feels like a must win game and looks like a must win game for those of us in the media, as well as supporters, then it is a must win game.
Bruce: “That sort of fall out from the story is the nonsense. Look, the days off were done two and a half weeks ago with sports scientists, me doctors, medical department to say how we can get time to rest and recover.
“The schedule with injuries is ridiculously tough. It was always scheduled that this week in particular gives us a chance to get a little rest into the players who have had an unbelievably tough session.
“For that to be even questioned is what I’m talking about, the ludicrousness of that article in particular which is totally and utterly nonsense. Look you have to be very careful and you have to prepare them as best you can and I’m very pleased with the preparation that we have put in for this particular game. We have two training sessions and we’ve already trained twice this week.
“We had to get some recovery into the players who have had a gruelling season.”
Verdict: Again, whether Newcastle have trained enough this week or not will ultimately be determined by the result at West Brom.
Bruce: “I hope so. You do it by trying to keep everything on the training grounds and circle the wagons. When you’re up against that you always believe you can circle the wagons and I’ve got complete faith in the squad of players I’ve got and I’m sure they have in me and we will do our utmost to get out of the trouble unfortunately we’re in.
“We have a big game coming up at the weekend and let’s concentrate on that and make sure that we can get a result.”
Verdict: Whenever Bruce has been in a crisis previously at Newcastle he has found a result to calm things down. The players are angry about the events of this week and the tone of, as well as the content of the accusations made by anonymous sources to the media. That could spark exactly the same positive reaction it did this time last year or Newcastle could be hopelessly divided and sink even deeper into relegation trouble.
Bruce: “There is no denying I have had a row, an argument, whatever you want to call it, with Matt Ritchie. In my experience, 20 years of doing this job and 20 years as a player, it happens up and down the country in various training grounds. We’ve got 25 men, full of testosterone, highly competitive, who want to be in the team and disappointed they haven’t been in the team. We have a row. It’s normal when you work with a group of men.
“So that part of the story, yes, if that’s wonderful journalism, then fair enough. The point for us is, amongst us we have a source or a leak which deeply upsets me.
“The reason he [the journalist] is banned, I think he has certainly got something personal against myself and that has been from day one. [It started] against Arsenal with the first substitution I ever made. [He] went to Norwich and he said I couldn't even take a warm-up. If I take you back 12 months, he tried to derail us ahead of a big game at West Brom inventing a story about Allan Saint-Maximin that I'd had a row with him. Do you remember?
“We had to fight that one until after midnight and he still wouldn’t accept he was wrong [about that story]. That was before a big game.
“He gave away the team before we played Manchester United, when Matty Longstaff scored the winner. He gave the team to the opposition and he is supposed to be a fan. Then, of course, this one and the fallout from it.
“Look, you [Luke Edwards] wrote the story and you know full well that I did not tip you off, in any way shape or form that I was going to take my goalkeeper out. That is the most disappointing thing, that I would come to you with that. In the 18 months I have been here, that is the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.
“To think I would go to a national newspaper with that, and no disrespect to you Luke, but to go to you and tell you before I told Karl is obscene and it’s not right. Same with this daft one this morning, saying they’ve got too many days off, it borders on ridiculous.
“Now he has been banned, he has told us that he is going to 'come for us all.' So, he’s had his bit [of fame] yesterday. He’s gone on national radio which he adores.
“We have to draw a line under it but I think it is personal and when he says he is going to come for the club too, that’s not balanced and it’s not right, It’s [the ban] not because he got a story, I have to tell you.”
Verdict: Given it was Telegraph Sport that asked this question, we did so in support of the banned journalist. Bruce has gone into a rare level of detail given his view of the dispute and why the decision has been made. At the moment, the journalist in question has the backing of the majority of supporters, but the level of support a manager receives is ultimately determined by results.There is no doubt the hostility towards Bruce has been present within the fanbase since he got the job and plenty of media coverage has reflected that. It is also a journalist’s job to report what is happening, not write stories clubs and managers want to hear.Whether there has been an agenda to deliberately destabilise Bruce and attack him unfairly is probably down to personal perception, but it is never a journalist’s fault when a manager gets sacked – it is because results and performances have not been good enough.