22. Not only the number on Serge Gnabry’s back as he hit four past Spurs, or the age Taylor Swift famously sang about, but also the number of attempts Steve Bruce has had to beat Manchester United as a manager. He hasn’t been successful as of yet.
The Newcastle gaffer may not get a better chance to end that record than this weekend as he takes to a Premier League dugout for the 400th time. His wounded Toon side host a United side out of form and with a serious lack of confidence. Bruce knows his side must respond after a 5-0 mauling at the hands of Leicester and a sold-out St James’ Park could provide the perfect platform to take advantage of this shaky United side.
Yet if Bruce’s dismal run continues to 23 games against the club where he was once adored, nobody will be surprised. His underachievement at Newcastle was painfully predictable and they now sit second bottom of the Premier League with just one win to their name. Replacing Rafa Benitez with Bruce was never going to put the Toon on an upwards trajectory yet the inevitability of this failure is perhaps the most surprising thing.
When owner Mike Ashley decided to appoint the 58-year-old as manager, it is difficult to see what he was envisaging for this season. Bruce was hardly a cheap signing, given he cost a reported £4m from Sheffield Wednesday and there were younger more promising managers who would have left at the chance to manage in the top flight for a fraction of the price.
Ashley got drawn into the love of ‘experience,’ a word that can only be used as a positive if you have enjoyed previous success in the Premier League. Bruce hasn’t. In fact, no manager who has been in charge of more than 300 Premier League games has a worse win percentage. Bruce’s currently stands at 27.8%, a truly horrendous number for a manager who is hitting 400 games this weekend.
Only six other managers are in the 400 club, Wenger, Ferguson, Redknapp, Moyes, Allardyce and Hughes, all of whom have enjoyed far more success in the league than Bruce ever has. Newcastle’s squad is not packed with quality and Benitez was certainly overachieving with them, but the appointment of Bruce means that Ashley has condemned them to a relegation battle when he could have revamped the side with a young, ambitious manager. Just look at how well Chris Wilder is performing at Sheffield United in the top flight!
Newcastle fans have been on a rollercoaster ride over the past few seasons but now it is perhaps worse than ever under the miserable, seemingly never-ending tenure of Steve Bruce.