Steve Bruce calls for more COVID testing after ‘scary’ Newcastle United outbreak – as Magpies' boss hails impact of returning defender
Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce believes more COVID testing is needed in the Premier League – and he thinks the Magpies WILL increase their test numbers following their recent virus outbreak.
At the moment current Premier League protocols require players to be tested just once a week.
But following a coronavirus outbreak that saw positive tests run into double figures in the space of a weekend has seen Bruce push for more testing on Tyneside.
The manager has described the impact of the recent COVID-19 crisis at the club as “scary” after it spread like wildfire through the playing and coaching staff – making four of them particularly ill.
“I’ve had a conversation with Lee (Charnley). As a club, I think we will do that,” said Bruce when asked whether United will up their testing from once weekly.
"It’s governed by the Premier League, so there are still discussions to be had.
"I was the first to bring it up in the league managers’ meeting when I thought we should be tested twice a week. Medical people told me that wasn’t needed.
"However, after what I witnessed in the week leading up to Crystal Palace, we should all be tested twice a week. The way it skittled through us was quite scary. And these are young, fit athletes. That didn’t matter a jot. We’ve got two really poorly members of staff. We’ve got two players, in particular, who it has had a tough effect on. They won’t be available for at least a couple of weeks.”
The immediate impact of the virus on the players is one thing, but the long to medium-term effect can be unpredictable.
Some players have suffered badly and been fine to play after isolation, some have not had symptoms, the impact to some has been much more drawn out in nature.
All of these scenarios are something Bruce is acutely aware of.
“The big thing is fatigue, and the way it has left you feeling tired,” Bruce said, having seen first-hand the impact on his playing staff, and some members of his coaching team, too.
"The players are fit, healthy and young, and for the vast majority, it washes over them. But unfortunately, for two of the players in particular, it has not washed over them.
"I think it would be wrong for me to go into too much detail, but they’re not going to be ready for at least a couple of weeks.
"For the vast majority of players, it washes over them. But not all. Isaac has gone public, so I can speak on his behalf, and he was in bed for a week. Arguably, he’s our fittest player. It has no boundaries. I think being young and fit helps you recover better, but in the week lead up to Crystal Palace, some of the things that happened really shocked me.
"From having nobody, the way it then skittled through everybody was quite scary. The decision from the Premier League, who has been here every day monitoring it since March, and the doctor and medical staff to shut us down was crucial, otherwise God knows what it would have done. It would have ripped through everybody I would have thought, the way it was going. It was ridiculous.”
The defender is welcomed back with open arms at United after a backline crisis saw Bruce have to field Isaac Hayden at centre-half, just days after the midfielder himself had crawled out from his bed after a particularly bad bout of the virus.
The weekend win over Crystal Palace was the first time since October 2019 that Argentine Fernandez, out of contract in the summer, had not featured for United in the Premier League.
And Bruce has explained why the Rafa Benitez signing has become such a ‘favourite’ of his when it comes to top flight selection.
“Well, first of all, he's a great pro with the way he looks after himself and the way he trains. Since I've been here, I think that's the first bit of training he's missed, which speaks volumes for someone of his age,” said Bruce.
"Look, he's played at the highest level. He's very good and dependable. When blocks have to be made, he's a very dependable, very good centre-back who I've been delighted with.
"He's become a firm favourite if that's how you want to put it because of the way he is.
"Week by week, for a centre-back, it's about going and doing your job and he's never too rash. He's always in the right place at the right time and a very good lad at that. It's very easy to make him one of the favourites.”
Fernandez is not one of the only players who have cemented themselves in the manager’s ‘good books’ this season.
Bruce has been singing the praises of United’s ‘Championship-winning’ core, from which the club’s ‘resilience’ in times of adversity, he believes, stems from.
“I think their (the squad’s) biggest quality is resilience,” he said.
"Yes, they might not be breath-taking on the eye, but they grasp what Newcastle is. They’ve been here for three or four years and know that to be successful, you have to have the ability to roll your sleeves up. If you do that, supporters will forgive you. Yes, we’d love them to be a little bit more entertaining at times. But the one thing that you can’t level at the core is any questions about their resilience or what they’ve given to Newcastle over a period of three or four years now. We shouldn’t be questioning them at all because they’ve proven it over a large period of time. They’re a really, really good group to work with, that’s for sure.”