Newcastle’s new owners have stepped up their search for a new head coach after Steve Bruce’s reign finally came to a end.
Thirteen days since Amanda Staveley’s Saudi-backed consortium finally got its hands on the club, the 60-year-old’s 27-month tenure drew to a close on Wednesday when it was announced that he had gone by mutual consent.
The PA news agency understands that former Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma boss Paulo Fonseca is a genuine candidate for the vacancy as the hierarchy whittles down a list of potential successors, but that he is not the only one despite being installed as a hot favourite by the bookmakers.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard, former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe and ex-Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard have also been linked with the job, although the Magpies’ owners have bought themselves a little time to get a key early decision right by placing Bruce’s assistant Graeme Jones in charge for Saturday’s Premier League trip to Crystal Palace.
Jones, part of Gareth Southgate’s England staff for this summer’s Euro 2020 finals tournament, joined the staff at St James’ Park in January having worked successfully under Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, and was credited with playing a significant role in last season’s successful fight for Premier League survival.
Whether Staveley and her partners will seek to make a permanent appointment immediately or wait until the summer when the pool of candidates will be larger remains to be seen, although Newcastle’s parlous league position – they are 19th having won none of their first eight games – suggests they cannot afford to gamble with their £305million investment.
Bruce’s departure hardly came as a surprise after Sunday’s 3-2 home defeat by Tottenham in his 1,000th game as a manager and his last in charge of the club he grew up supporting.
That it took so long perhaps did amid frenzied speculation over potential replacements since it emerged that the takeover was about to go through.
His exit was confirmed in a club statement, which said: “Newcastle United can confirm that Steve Bruce has left his position as head coach by mutual consent.
“He leaves the Magpies after more than two years in charge, having steered the club to 13th and 12th-place finishes in the Premier League and reaching the quarter-final stage in both the Emirates FA Cup and Carabao Cup during his tenure.
“Newcastle United would like to place on record its gratitude to Steve for his contribution and wishes him well for the future.”
The statement continued: “Graeme Jones will lead the team on an interim basis, starting with Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace, and will be supported by the coaching team of Steve Agnew, Stephen Clemence, Ben Dawson and Simon Smith.
“The process of recruiting a new head coach is under way and an appointment will be announced in due course. The club will not be making further comment at this time.”
There were comments in the statement from Bruce too, but he offered a more telling appraisal of his time in a job to which he was appointed as Rafael Benitez’s successor amid an outcry in July 2019 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.
The former Manchester United defender, who won only 28 of the 97 games played in all competitions on his watch, revealed it would “probably” be his last managerial job and hit out at some of the criticism he has received.
He said: “By the time I got to Newcastle, I thought I could handle everything thrown at me, but it has been very, very tough.
“To never really be wanted, to feel that people wanted me to fail, to read people constantly saying I would fail, that I was useless, a fat waste of space, a stupid, tactically inept cabbage head or whatever. And it was from day one.
“When we were doing okay results-wise, it was, ‘Yeah, but the style of football is rubbish’ or I was just ‘lucky.’ It was ridiculous and persistent, even when the results were good.”
Bruce also revealed the toll the experience had taken on he and his family, and in particular his wife Jan.
He said: “I can’t take her for granted, she has spent her whole life following me around from football club to football club and if I was to say to her tomorrow, I’ve been offered a job in China, or anywhere, she would say, ‘Steve, is this right for you, do you want to do it?’ And she’d back me again.
“I’m 60 years old and I don’t know if I want to put her through it again. We’ve got a good life so, yeah, this will probably be me done as a manager – until I get a phone call from a chairman somewhere asking if I can give them a hand. Never say never, I’ve learnt that.”
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