Mike Ashley and Newcastle United's hierarchy deliver subtle message to Steve Bruce
The ending of the transfer window was said to have left Steve Bruce “bruised and battered”.
Bruce got his No.1 target – Newcastle United signed midfielder Joe Willock from Arsenal – but the club didn’t sign another senior player before Tuesday night’s deadline.
This failure to strengthen provoked an understandable backlash from fans fearful of another relegation battle.
Bruce, understood to be taking a short break in Portugal during the international break, made his frustration known, having expected to sign at least one more player before the summer window closed.
The Gazette reported early on transfer deadline day that the club, which recruited 19-year-old striker Santiago Munoz on loan, was done in terms of first-team business.
However, Bruce – who had given a one-word answer when he had been asked about the club’s remaining transfer business following last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Southampton – still thought there was a chance of bringing in midfielder Hamza Choudhury on loan from Leicester City.
It was also reported that there was a chance of a deal for Olympique Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara. There were more talks over Choudhury in the final hours of the window, but no deal. The club was, after all, done in terms of first-team arrivals.
Bruce hasn’t spoken publicly since the deadline, but the club yesterday issued a lengthy, and unattributed, statement on its “approach” to the summer window. The club said it wanted to “provide supporters with an update” following the deadline.
However, the missive was seemingly aimed as much at Bruce, United’s head coach, as the club’s supporters. There were pointed references to the summer’s budget – and also the club’s net spend since Bruce took charge two years ago.
The statement read: “Internally, all parties have long been aware of the budgetary parameters under which we are operating.
“Ahead of the summer transfer window, Joe Willock was identified as the club’s primary target. Once it was confirmed that the player would be available on a permanent deal, a collaborative decision was taken to pursue this option. All parties were aware as to the implications for further squad consolidation.”
The statement added: “Since summer 2019, the club has made nine permanent signings and taken five players on loan. Our net spend over this period is circa £120million.”
However, the statement hints at the hierarchy’s unhappiness with briefings earlier this week.
Bruce’s dissatisfaction, of course, is understandable. The club’s 25-man Premier League squad, which is set to feature four goalkeepers, has arguably been weakened this summer following the departures of Andy Carroll and Christian Atsu.
But a souring of the relationship between Bruce and the club’s hierarchy off the pitch is potentially significant ahead of a challenging few months on the field.
The unsigned statement ended with a plea to fans for them to get behind Bruce – who told of his “disappointment” at chants against him during the Southampton game – and his team.
It read: “We ask all our loyal supporters to get behind their team, because we are stronger together.”
Fans, however, have asked why Ashley didn’t get behind the club this summer.