Newcastle are expected to appoint Steve Bruce as Rafael Benitez’s successor, but fans are far from happy and there is still uncertainty surrounding takeover talks and transfers.
Here, Sky Sports News’ north-east reporter Keith Downie offers an insight into what’s happening at the club, from the managerial search to potential spending before the transfer deadline.
Bruce seen as ‘safe pair of hands’
My understanding is that Newcastle are set to offer Bruce the job. The club have been in dialogue with his representatives and unless there are any hitches over compensation with Sheffield Wednesday, I expect the appointment to be announced before the squad fly to China on Saturday.
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Ashley originally wanted a bigger name. We know Steven Gerrard, Patrick Vieira, Roberto Martinez, Mikel Arteta and Sam Allardyce were all approached, but they either distanced themselves from the position or were dissuaded from taking it, so Ashley had to work his way down his list.
He has always had a good relationship with Bruce and came close to offering him the job in 2015, when he eventually gave it to Steve McClaren instead. Now, he sees Bruce as a safe pair of hands in what is a really troublesome situation.
He knows Bruce will work within the structure that exists at Newcastle, which is basically just Ashley, Lee Charnley [managing director] and the manager. He will be willing to work with them and get on with them, which is crucial seeing as Benitez had absolutely no relationship with Ashley and eventually fell out with Charnley as well.
Ashley also knows Bruce is desperate for the job. He grew up just outside of Newcastle and supported the club as a boy. He has gone on record in the past as saying it’s his dream job, so it’s not as though they are appointing someone who feels they are doing Newcastle a favour by being there.
‘Fans at lowest point’
In my six years in the North East, this is as low as I can remember the fans being. There is a toxic atmosphere around the city.
I’ve been talking to a number of supporters who are telling me they definitely won’t be renewing their season tickets. They are even talking about boycotting the first game of the season against Arsenal.
It’s not just a reaction to Bruce, it’s a whole collection of things. Primarily, it’s because Ashley is still in charge and the takeover hasn’t happened. Secondly, it’s because they are still angry that Rafa has gone. Thirdly, it’s because the club are not replacing him with someone of a similar standing.
They see Bruce as a major step down and an uninspiring choice. He does have Premier League experience, which was very important to Ashley, but the fans see him as a Championship-level manager. It’s going to be a real test for him. The issue is not that he has links with Sunderland. It’s that he is not considered a suitable replacement for someone like Benitez.
Someone like Gerrard or Vieira might have been given more time and more goodwill, but Bruce is going to be starting from five places back on the grid.
There are takeover talks still going on in the background and the club remains up for sale. Until Ashley comes out and says otherwise, that will remain the case – as it has been for the best part of two years now.
What I will say, though, is that I have serious reservations about the proposed Bin Zayed group takeover. It’s my understanding that, despite their claims, they have still not submitted proof of funds. They say they have completed that paperwork, but that’s not what I’m hearing.
I also have to question the way they are going about things, issuing statements by very unusual means, through a Dubai-based DJ, who also happens to be a Newcastle supporter. They are not going through official lines, which is troubling and means the whole thing loses its credibility.
The word I’m getting from a number of sources is that they don’t have the money to buy the club. I do think their interest is genuine and there have been talks, but I think the reality is that they don’t have the funds to complete the takeover.
Having said that, I still think there are other interested parties out there too.
Transfers on hold – but money to spend
All potential signings are on hold until the new manager is appointed, but what I have been told by the club is that all the money from the Ayoze Perez sale will go towards his budget. I’ve been told that they already had a pot of £60m, so that adds up to £90m.
That’s before you consider other potential sales, as well. Isaac Hayden still wants to leave and there’s real talk of interest from Manchester United in Sean Longstaff.
So the pot could add up to well over £100m, but whether or not it all goes to the new manager, and whether or not they have left enough time to spend it before the transfer deadline passes, remains to be seen. We have been here before, where money is promised and then not spent.
The message from Newcastle, though, is that they could still have a busy transfer window once the new manager is appointed. The scouting team and Steve Nixon, the head of recruitment, have been working away in the background and my feeling is there are probably a couple of deals already lined up from when Rafa was still in charge.
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