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Milestone game for Newcastle manager could be a farewell

Steve Bruce will take charge of his 1,000th match as a manager when Tottenham visits St. James' Park in the Premier League on Sunday.

AP Written by: AP Newcastle Published on: October 16, 2021 18:06 IST
Steve Bruce
Image Source : GETTY IMAGES

Steve Bruce

The welcome party for the new regime in control of Newcastle could double as a farewell for the club's coach.

Steve Bruce will take charge of his 1,000th match as a manager when Tottenham visits St. James' Park in the Premier League on Sunday, marking Newcastle's first game since being bought by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

Bruce's future has been shrouded in uncertainty since the 300-million-pound ($409 million) takeover that is likely to shake up not just the Premier League but European soccer also, given the vast resources available to the Public Investment Fund which is now the majority owner of Newcastle.

The PIF, along with the British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley's PCP Capital Partners, who own the remaining 20% of the club, have spent the week planning a strategy for Newcastle. Bruce is unlikely to be part of Newcastle's plans going forward but has been given his milestone match this weekend.

“We met Steve and the players on Monday and have given them the time and space this week to focus on preparing for what is a very important game on Sunday,” Staveley, who was the broker of the buyout and has been the public face of the new regime, said in a statement released by the club on Friday.

“Steve has been very professional in our dealings with him and he and his coaching team will take the team on Sunday. If we make any changes going forward, Steve will be the first to know.”

Bruce, a former Manchester United defender, has been Newcastle manager since July 2019. He wasn't a popular appointment because he had previously coached local rival Sunderland, and Newcastle fans also saw him as a downgrade to predecessor Rafa Benitez.

Making Bruce's position harder has been Newcastle's poor start to the season. The team has not won any of its first seven games in the Premier League and is in next-to-last place.

Less than an hour after Newcastle confirmed Bruce would still be in charge this weekend, he spoke for the first time since the buyout was finalized and said the last few days “hadn't been easy” because of the many reports saying he'd be losing his job.

Bruce, though, hasn't given up hope of being kept on.

“I'll have a crack,” the 60-year-old Bruce said.

“I'll try my utmost. If they see fit, then great. Who wouldn't want this opportunity now?”

The buyout has left many feeling uneasy, including Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who called on the Premier League to explain the reasons behind letting the PIF take control of a club amid human rights concerns in the kingdom.

The league approved the protracted takeover after saying it was satisfied that the PIF produced “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle.”

That fund, which has bought 80% of the club, is chaired by Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, while there are six Saudi ministers and an advisor to the royal court on the PIF's board.

Activists have highlighted to the Premier League Saudi human rights violations, including the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul after U.S. intelligence services said they believe the slaying came at the crown prince's orders. The kingdom has denied that.

“Actually, I was waiting for some official statements about it from (Premier League chief executive) Richard Masters or somebody else, because we all know there are obviously concerns about human rights issues,” Klopp said.

“I think that's all clear, we all think the same there.”

“Obviously,” Klopp added, “the Premier League, or Richard Masters, thought, Yeah, let's give it a go.' It's not the first time, but as far as I know, it's the first club which is now owned by a country. I'm not sure how many countries are still out there who have the financial power and interests to do so, but this is how it is.”

Klopp didn't specify details of any conversations with Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan that could have gleaned information from meetings of Premier League clubs.

And Klopp was clear: football will have a new superpower “in five, six, seven years" and a club which will have a "guaranteed" place in the Champions League.

“The new owners of Newcastle have enough money to buy the whole league,” Klopp said. “Maybe they will fancy that at one point, and it opens up again and everyone has the same chance.”

The ownership of two other leading European clubs are linked to state investments since the takeover of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour in 2008 and the Qatari funding of Paris Saint-Germain since 2011.

Bruce said he had seen the transformation not just of Man City but the area where the club is located in Manchester and hopes Newcastle can benefit in a similar way.

Asked if he has reservations about the new owners because of human rights concerns, Bruce said: "I'm sure people will look into that. That's for politicians and the rest to decide on.” 


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