Miles Starforth's China tour diary: Steve Bruce has this in common with Graeme Souness

It’s 15 years since Newcastle United were last in the Far East.

Monday, 15th July 2019, 3:22 pm
Yoshinori Muto arrives in Nanjing.

Back then, in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong and Bangkok, the players were wilting. The late, great Sir Bobby Robson was also hot and bothered.

The previous season’s UEFA Cup defeat to Olympique Marseille was the beginning of the end of his tenure at his boyhood club, and he was unceremoniously sacked by Freddy Shepherd a couple of weeks into the new season.

Things had unravelled on that Far East tour. Sir Bobby had had to respond to claims he had be looking to phase out Alan Shearer. Robson also felt the conditions weren’t ideal ahead of a long and gruelling Premier League campaign.

A bullet train arrives at Nanjing South station in Nanjing.

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Fast forward to today, and things are again unravelling at the club, which lost manager Rafa Benitez on June 30 and is yet to sign a player this summer.

Fifteen years ago, the club was used to top-four finishes. Not now. Gone are the lofty ambitions of the Shepherd era. It’s all about survival – and some fans have had enough.

It was in 2004, ironically, that Steve Bruce was first approached about the Newcastle job.

Back then, he would have had the unenviable task of succeeding Robson. Now, if he takes the job, he will have the equally unenviable task of following Benitez, the most popular manager since Robson.

Miles Starforth in China.

Bruce is backing himself to succeed, but he knows he won’t have the backing that Benitez did at St James’s Park.

Hot and humid

Nanjing isn’t that well known in Europe. Yet it has a larger population than London. Nanjing, up the Yangtze River from Shanghai, is huge, though not by Chinese standards.

Newcastle United’s players are getting an idea of the scale of China on the club’s first visit to the country. They’re also getting used to the heat and humidity in Nanjing, the scene for Wednesday night’s Premier League Asia Trophy game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. It’s 31 degrees today, and the humidity will be close to 90% tonight.

And there isn’t the light breeze that the players were used to at Carlton House, near Dublin, where Rafa Benitez took the players during his three years at the club.