'He's hard work at times': Steve Bruce opens up on managing Allan Saint-Maximin at Newcastle United
Saint-Maximin, signed from Nice last summer for £16.5million, has been outstanding in his first season at St James’s Park.
And the winger – who set up three of 13th-placed Newcastle's goals in Wednesday’s 4-1 Premier League win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium – is certain to attract interest in the summer transfer window.
Saint-Maximin – who signed a six-year deal at United last summer – is reportedly “frustrated” that he hasn’t already been offered an improved contract after establishing himself in the Premier League.
Bruce brushed off that report – and speculation linking Miguel Almiron with Atletico Madrid – ahead of Sunday’s behind-closed-doors home game against West Ham United, though he did insist that the 23-year-old won’t be leaving the club this summer..
Asked if there was a chance he could leave Newcastle in the window, head coach Bruce said: “No chance, no chance.
“Look, for Allan and Almiron, the speculation about their futures and this, that and the other, they've only been here a short amount of time. I'm not going to be naive enough to not think every player in the world has got their own price.
“I'm sure if you asked Leicester, did they ever want to sell Harry Maguire, they probably didn't, but you have to get to a certain level. The good thing, for me, is they're performing on the pitch, which is why they're linked.
“Every conversation I have with a journalist or broadcaster is about Allan, and we enjoy watching him. The rest is up to him – he's got to prolong it.
“He's' done it for a few weeks, so he's got to stay there at that level, and let us deal with all that speculation when it comes.
“There are reports about Almiron, and if they keep playing the way they are, it's inevitable they are going to attract so-called bigger fish, so let's deal with that when it comes.”
Bruce believes that Saint-Maxmin was the best “pound-for-pound signing” made by a Premier League club last summer.
“I wouldn’t put a price on him,” said Bruce. “When you’re looking at the levels of money we bought him for, he’s arguably the best pound-for-pound signing in the Premier League. You show me another better.
“(For) what he has produced this season, we have probably got the buy of the season.”
Nice manager Patrick Vieira, linked with the United post before Bruce’s appointment, was critical of Saint-Maximin’s attitude last season.
Speaking last April, Vieira said: “Allan’s problem is that, sadly, he thinks that talent is enough to go to the highest level. And he needs to understand that he needs to work, to make sacrifices. He needs to suffer. And sadly, he hasn’t yet understood that.”
Bruce has conceded that Saint-Maximin – who kept fans entertained by live streaming his garden training sessions on Instagram during lockdown – can be “difficult to manage”, though he also insisted that his talent and enthusiasm “outweigh anything else”
“When you get somebody like that, of course they’re different to manage,” said Bruce. “When you get yourself a bit of a reputation, which Allan seemed to have, then, of course, it's going to test your managerial skills. That's what it's all about.
“The great thing about Allan is, the one thing you can't deny even following him – I don't follow Instagram – but if you follow him, or whatever, then he's always playing football.
“Whether it was in the lockdown when he was dribbling against his mates in his garden or his dog or whatever, he's got a genuine love for the game and he enjoys the ball, and you can see that, the way he plays.
“He's got a great enthusiasm for the game of football and that outweighs, for me, anything else.
“Of course, round the edges, I don't know how many times I've fined him for earrings and headbands and all sorts. He's coming to terms with it and certainly his performances – I think every interview I'm doing at the minute, it's about Allan, so for me, it's the way he's performing on the pitch.
“Certainly, when you look at the other night the second goal in particular, the one he makes for Sean (Longstaff), I think there's only him on the pitch who could produce a bit of skill like that.
“He's blessed with unique skills, which obviously he's got in abundance.”
Asked if he had lost his temper with Saint-Maximin, Bruce added: “Oh, yeah, but I’m not going to tell you. There have been one or two moments, but he needs to be reminded of that now and again.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how he responds to it, and the great thing about him, the enjoyable thing, is he just loves playing football. He’s like a kid in the playground again.
“Players with real natural ability are like that. He’s hard work at times, there’s no disputing that, but as long as he keeps performing, we’ll manage him the best way we can and try to unlock the vast potential he has.”