The full transcript of Steve Bruce's explosive Newcastle United press call as he tackles Matt Ritchie row, Karl Darlow leak, days off – and club decision to ban Craig Hope
Steve Bruce has given his view of a training ground row with Matt Ritchie – and hit back at a number of accusations.
Newcastle United's head coach was speaking ahead of Sunday’s game against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.
Bruce spoke to the media today after news broke of a confrontation with Ritchie in the wake of last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers at St James’s Park.
Ritchie had been angered by Bruce's post-match comments about a communication breakdown before the visiting team’s equaliser.
United's head coach also addressed a suggestion he had leaked news of Martin Dubravka’s recall – and revealed his determination to find the source of a series of damaging leaks.
Bruce also revealed that the club had banned Craig Hope, of the Daily Mail, in response to two stories he had written this week.
Here, we publish the transcript of Bruce’s press conference.
Can you tell us what has happened with Matt Ritchie?
“Look, there's no denying that I've had a row with Matt Ritchie, but let me tell you that happens up and down training grounds every other week.
“You're dealing with 25 men, emotions run high, fiercely competitive – these things happen, unfortunately, and, unfortunately for us with Newcastle, of course it gets blown to all sort of proportions.
“Matty apologised, as far as we're concerned, and me personally, it's over. As I said, it happens, unfortunately, on a regular basis, but ours leaks into the media, which obviously causes the frenzy.
“Unfortunately, at this particular time when we've got a big game coming up, we would do without it. As far as I'm concerned it's over and we get on with it.
“I will have to say one thing, though. The story surrounding Karl Darlow, that I would go to a journalist and give them an exclusive that he wouldn't be playing at the weekend, I find totally disgusting.
“If I thought I would do that, I would resign tomorrow. It's simply not true, it's unfair on Karl, and, arguably over the last 18 months, that's been the most difficult decision I've had to make.
“Yes, he's got the story right that I've had a row or an argument with a player; the rest of it is totally, utterly nonsense. We have to draw a line under it and move on.”
Why are things blown out of proportion at Newcastle?
“It happens up and down the country, but it doesn't get out.
"Unfortunately, he (Hope) has a source in and around the club which obviously feeds him, which is the most disappointing thing, I have to tell you – which we're all looking into to try to find the culprit because at other clubs, it simply doesn't happen.
“I've been in it long enough to understand when you're dealing with 25 men day in and day out, highly competitive, highly on the edge, then of course you're going to get a row between them, a row between the staff. It happens up and down the country week in and week out.”
Do you fear the source is someone from within?
“It has to be, unfortunately it has to be, so that is the biggest disappointment to us all, and unfortunately it happens a bit too often. We'll try our utmost to see who it is.”
How is Matt Ritchie?
“The very following day, he trained, he trained well like you'd expect of Matt, and he came and apologised to me in front of the staff and the players and as I said, from that point on, it's over and one with and we move on because it happens on a regular basis. These things happen.
“From early last week, it's all forgotten about as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, it's been regurgitated in a newspaper.”
Shouldn't have said what you said (after the Wolves game)?
“You're asked after the game and I tried to be truthful and give the events the way I saw it. In hindsight, maybe not. But as I said, straight after a game when you've just conceded the way we did. Yes, I could have been better in the post-match interview, I'll accept that.”
There is an accusation in the same newspaper that players have had too many days off?
“Now, it’s bordering on ridiculous. Look, we set the schedule last month with the doctors and sports scientists. The playing schedule this year has been totally ridiculous – we didn't have a day off for something like six weeks – so I don't even have to respond to that, because I just find that an absolutely absurd and obscene suggestion.
"It's laughable, but it makes a national newspaper headline again. It's just ridiculous.”
Is the biggest issue you are dealing with the leaks?
“That's the most disappointing thing. It's not the uppermost thing on my mind, the thing on my mind is now we're preparing for West Brom.
“All the tittle-tattle and all the nonsense like that, I can't get myself embroiled with it. The so-called journalist has had his 24 hours, he's been live on the radio and given the air-time that he craves, so he's had his 24 hours.
“For me, it's more important that we all – and I stress 'we', myself, the staff, the players – we all are on the same page, that we can get the number of points tat we need to make sure that we stay in the Premier League."
How destabilising has the last 24 hours been?
“It's not destabilising. We're disappointed because unfortunately around us, we have somebody leaking stuff to a national newspaper. That's the disappointing thing.
“But we'll use it and I'll use it, and I'm absolutely 100% behind the players. I've seen that in the last few weeks. We've played very well over the last few weeks – it's gone unnoticed.
“All I can focus on now is getting the best out of the team, the best out of the players and I'll continue to do so."
Will you have a group meeting to talk about the events of the last few days?
“Whatever happens here, I try to keep it under wraps. We'll have a conversation. Whether it's in the training ground or whatever, we'll have a conversation about it, of course."
I know a lot of this on the pitch is focusing on what Newcastle need to do in terms of the relegation battle, but the results last night, Fulham and West Brom, that is clearly a boost for your chances?
“I’ve said it many times, it’s the accumulation of points. Last year, we got to a certain area where we were probably safe with five games to go. I hope that’s the case this year, that we can pick up enough points believe me, but I still think it’s your accumulation of points and certainly 25 or 26 points is nowhere near.
"We just have to concentrate on what we do. We’ve got to win so many matches, so we have to focus on that, which is hugely important. And a big opportunity at the weekend.”
It’s been a bit of a difficult week, and with everything that’s gone on over the season, with the fans criticising and Covid, do you ever feel that you’ve had enough of this and want to walk away?
“Do I feel like walking away? Definitely not. Not at all. More than ever, I’m 100% committed to trying to get us out of the trouble we’re in. I think the players are too. I’ve got 100% faith in them, and I think that remains vital to us. So, no, just because things get tough (I won’t walk away).
"I always knew things would be tough. Maybe it’s tougher than I thought, but I always knew it was going to be tough. It’s a tough gig this one, there’s no disputing that. But I’ll try my best, like I always do, to make sure that we’re okay.”
Do you think you will be here next year?
“I sincerely hope so, but that’s for others to decide. What’s gone at the football club, let me tell you, and it’s vitally important you all understand it. Look, a bust-up unfortunately makes huge, huge headlines in Newcastle. The disappointing thing for me, personally, and the club, is that unfortunately the so-called journalist has got a source.
"Fair enough, but to try and derail us and cause all this noise before a big game, we could do without it. These things happen in football clubs. Up and down the country people have fall-outs – you’re dealing with 25 men who are highly competitive, full of testosterone.
"Like I said, we had an apology from Matt. As far as I’m concerned, it’s finished. Unfortunately, it gets regurgitated in a national newspaper, which is not good for anybody. But I am determined to crack on and stay with it. I’m never going to walk away from it and accept the challenge of how difficult it is to manage Newcastle.”
Can I ask you about the number of times you’ve trained this week?
“That sort of fall out from the story is the nonsense. Look, the days off were done two and a half weeks ago with sports scientists, me doctors, medical department to say how we can get time to rest and recover.
“The schedule with injuries is ridiculously tough. It was always scheduled that this week in particular gives us a chance to get a little rest into the players who have had an unbelievably tough session.
“For that to be even questioned is what I’m talking about, the ludicrous of that article in particular, which is totally and utterly nonsense. Look you have to be very careful and you have to prepare them as best you can, and I’m very pleased with the preparation that we have put in for this particular game. We have two training sessions, and we’ve already trained twice this week.
“We had to get some recovery into the players who have had a gruelling season.”
Can you circle the wagons, use it and draw positives from this?
“I hope so. You do it by trying to keep everything on the training grounds – and circle the wagons. The disappointment in all of that is somewhere around the training ground there is a leak to a certain journalist which is totally disappointing go course, and we’ll do our utmost as a club to find that source.
“When you’re up against that you always believe you can circle the wagons and I’ve got complete faith in the squad of players I’ve got, and I’m sure they have in me, and we will do our utmost to get out of the trouble unfortunately we’re in.
“We have a big game coming up at the weekend and let’s concentrate on hat and make sure that we can get a result.”
As a journalist who has been banned before, a colleague of mine has been banned by the club. It seems to me that the story he wrote about Matt Ritchie was correct. So, has he banned for writing a story that was correct?
“There is no denying I have had a row, an argument, whatever you want to call it, with Matt Ritchie. In my experience, 20 years of doing this job and 20 years as a player, it happens up and down the country in various training grounds.
"We’ve got 25 men, full of testosterone, highly competitive, who want to be in the team and disappointed they haven’t been in the team. We have a row. It’s normal when you work with a group of men.
“So that part of the story, yes, if that’s wonderful journalism, then fair enough. The point for us is, amongst us we have a source or a leak which deeply upsets me.
“The reason he is banned, i think he has certainly got something personal against myself and that has been from day one … against Arsenal with the first substitution I ever made. (He) went to Norwich, and he said I couldn't even take a warm-up.
"If I take you back 12 months, he tried to derail us ahead of a big game at West Brom inventing a story about Allan Saint Maximin that I'd had a row with him. Do you remember?
“We had to fight that one until after midnight, and he still wouldn’t accept he was wrong. That was before a big game.
“He gave away the team before we played Manchester United, when Matty Longstaff scored the winner. He gave the team to the opposition and he is supposed to be a fan. Then, of course, this one and the fallout from it.
“Look, you (the Daily Telegraph’s Luke Edwards) wrote the story (about Darlow and Dubravka), and you know full well that I did not tip you off, in any way shape or form that I was going to take my goalkeeper out. That is the most disappointing thing, that i would come to you with that. In the 18 months I have been here, that’s the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make.
“To think i would go to a national newspaper with that, and no disrespect to you Luke, but to go to you and tell you before I told Karl is obscene – and it’s not right.
“Same with this daft one this morning, saying they’ve got too many days off, it borders on ridiculous.
“Now he has been banned, he has told us that he’s going to ‘come for us all’. So, he’s had his bit (of fame) yesterday. He’s gone on national radio, which he adores.
“We have to draw a line under it but I think it is personal and when he says he is going to come for the club too, that’s not balanced and it’s not right, It’s (the ban) not because he got a story, I have to tell you.”
Going back to Jamie Carragher’s analysis the other night, what did you think about his analysis and why the message to Jacob Murphy did not go out a bit quicker?
“I didn’t see Jamie’s analysis and i think the consequences of those events have been played out before and I don’t really want to comment.
"I made a comment at the time that upset Matt, and (it led to) the well-publicised row and bust-up. He apologised to me, my staff and he did it in front of all the players. As far as I’m concerned, Lee, it’s done and it’s dusted. We move on.
"I have 100% faith in the players and I am convinced they have the same for me and my staff. I’m convinced with the group of players we have we will get out of the trouble we are in. So, let’s go and do that.”