Steve Bruce reveals Matt Ritchie's 'big problem' at Newcastle United
Matt Ritchie had a “big problem” earlier this season at Newcastle United.
Ritchie, for the first time in his career, wasn’t playing regularly – and he had become “frustrated”, according to Steve Bruce.
The winger didn’t easily fit into the systems used by Bruce, and a January return to his former club Bournemouth had been discussed.
Then came a well-publicised training ground row between Bruce and Ritchie in March following post-match comments made by United’s head coach after a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Ritchie had come off the bench that day, and he had to wait another month to get on the pitch.
A change in system opened the door to Ritchie, who slotted into a five-man defence as a left wing-back against Tottenham Hotspur early last month.
The 31-year-old, under contract at Newcastle until 2023, has been a fixture in the team ever since then, having brought a welcome tenacity to a team which had looked to be heading towards the Championship.
Ritchie was an influential figure on the pitch as the club secured two wins and two draws to ease relegation concerns.
“I’m delighted with how Matt has played,” said Bruce, speaking ahead of tomorrow night's game against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
“It’s been well-publicised about this row, or whatever you want to call it, but the one thing you cannot deny with Matt Ritchie is what he produces in training – and what he is as a professional. He’s impeccable in that respect.
"Matt’s big problem is that he wanted to play, and he wants to play every single game. I couldn’t guarantee him that. The situation we find ourselves in at the minute, and the system we’re playing, suits him very well. He’s very good at that.
"But he’s in an area and a position where we’ve got healthy competition. I’ll have discussions with Matt, but I’m delighted that he’s done exactly what we thought he would do. He’s infectious, enthusiastic, and we all know what he is.
"He’ll find an argument in an empty house, mind, but he’s terrific at what he does. In terms of being a pro, he does everything right. He trains well, works hard and has got an infectious enthusiasm.
"His only problem, I believe, is when he is not in the team, and I can fully understand that. He’s been like that since he was a kid, he’s always wanted to play.
"So I understand totally that when you’re not playing, you get frustrated, and get yourself into a place where you maybe don’t want to be.”
Ritchie this week addressed his time out of the team in an interview with Sky Sports.
“If I'm honest, yes, I thought my Newcastle career was over," said Ritchie.
“It was difficult. It was probably my first spell in my career where I've been fully fit and not involved, so that was difficult mentally and physically, how to adapt and adapt my training. They're challenges I've not had before.
"I feel like I've come through it, learned a lot in the last six months, and I'm pleased with how I've reacted personally to those challenges."