Steve Bruce is experiencing a range of emotions ahead of fulfilling a long-standing dream by presiding over his first Premier League match as theNewcastle manager.
“Nervous, apprehensive, excited,” he said, looking forward to Arsenal’s visit to St James’ Park on Sunday. “To be in charge of this great club is one of the great highlights of my 40-year career. I’m very fortunate.”
The day threatens to be blemished by a fans’ boycott of the stadium and a city-centre protest march as some supporters show their objections to Mike Ashley’s ownership and disappointment at Rafael Benítez’s departure.
Bruce’s predecessor remains revered on Tyneside and Bruce accepts he is seen as second best. “You’ve got to deal with the pressure,” he said. “You need a few [good] results and quickly. I don’t expect a honeymoon.
“But, hopefully, I’ll win those supporters who are still in doubt over. Over a period of time, hopefully, I’ll get that sort of respect they have for Rafa. Deep down I know the fans will get behind the team. You can feel a little mood swing already.
“They’re excited at seeing the new players [Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin, Jetro Willems, Emil Krafth and Andy Carroll]. Hopefully, we’ll be able to calm them down a bit.”
Many pundits tip Newcastle for relegation. “That’s a motivational tool,” Bruce said. “The players have this ‘we’ll show ’em’ attitude.”
He believes it “imperative” to retain the nucleus of Benítez’s squad and wants fresh contracts for, among others, Matt Ritchie, Martin Dubravka and Jamaal Lascelles. “We need to tie four or five to new deals.”
Carroll has a one-year agreement and Bruce maintains the injury-prone centre-forward’s “homecoming” carries minimal risk. “A no-brainer,” he says, suggesting ankle trouble means it will be next month before Newcastle’s very own “divine ponytail” leads the line. “It’s all incentivised and I hope Andy’s maturity can help ouryounger players.”
Carroll – expected to be reintroduced to the fans on Sunday – has been labelled “self-destructively immature” but Bruce believes the chaos which once surrounded the player’s personal life is over. “We’ve had that vitally important conversation. I think Andy’s matured. When you’re young you do things you regret. We’ve all fallen around drunk at one point, haven’t we? But now he’s an experienced pro who can help the younger ones.”