Craig Hope of the Daily Mail dropped a bombshell report claiming that there was a confrontation between Matt Ritchie and Steve Bruce following Newcastle United’s frustrating draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Tensions in Newcastle were already high with the team sitting just 3 points above the drop zone, and without their 3 best-attacking players until April at the earliest. Things went from bad to worse, when Bruce openly blamed mistakes from the players for the draw and publicly declared that he felt as if they would have won if those mistakes were not made.
In 40 seconds Bruce blames Matt Ritchie for not relaying the instructions quick enough, Jamal Lewis for not stopping the cross, and Dubravka for not making the save.
"We should stop the cross, it was a frustration, we will have to concede that one"— Football Daily (@footballdaily) February 27, 2021
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce clears up the confusion during Matt Ritchie's substitution right before they conceded the equaliser pic.twitter.com/t8ykDjBugi
According to Hope’s report, after seeing this nationally televised interview blaming himself for the result, Matt Ritchie was upset and wanted to speak with Bruce. Hope claims Ritchie tried to call Bruce that evening but was told to wait until training to confront the manager. This meant that Ritchie would have to wait until Tuesday to air his frustrations, 3 days after the incident,
Craig Hope details that on Tuesday Steve Agnew told Matt Ritchie that Steve Bruce was ready to see him in his office. Ritchie reportedly responded that he was not speaking to the “coward”’ again. Once Bruce got word of this, he confronted Matt Ritchie on the training pitch in front of the team and a shouting match ensued.
The report claims that things even got physical as Bruce “shoulder-barged” the player, infuriated by Ritchie calling him a “coward”. Bruce went as far as to exclaim “After all I’ve done for you”. Ritchie reportedly did not retaliate physically but did respond “‘You’ve done f*** all for me,” before telling Bruce he was a “coward” and that he was “done” with him.
Bruce responded by saying “What are you going to do? Tell Lee Charnley?”, a tell-tale sign Bruce does not understand this club under Mike Ashley. For him to think that Charnley has any actual power at Newcastle is laughable, but Hope reports that Bruce does fear that players have complained about him to Charnley.
Craig Hope then confirms various frustrations from members of the team and an overall sentiment that the team is done with Bruce. The signs have been there on the pitch, and through rumors, fans have spread among themselves, but this is the first time we have an actual insight into the frustrations reportedly going on at the club. Hope makes claims that players were annoyed Bruce blamed Graeme Jones for the mix-up at Wolves, that they openly make fun of him in a WhatsApp group, they did not appreciate how he handled the Dubravka/Darlow transition, that they were annoyed with Shelvey’s interview ahead of the Wolves match, and that many players agreed with Matt Ritchie’s sentiment towards the manager.
Hope goes as far as to reveal a statement from a club source that outlines the sentiment of the team right now.
“There has long been an inquest into who has been leaking stories from the training ground and the manager has stood back and watched players and staff accuse each other, yet he is the biggest leak of all. Most of the players do not trust him and do not like him.”
As a manager or coach in any sport, the easiest way to lose a locker room is to simply not hold yourself accountable. Blaming players for mistakes, instead of accepting responsibility is a recipe for disaster. Bruce loves to take credit for wins, but any result that is unfavorable, Bruce immediately blames the players, refs, injuries, pitch, dogs barking outside the park, the sandwich had for breakfast, and basically anyone or anything but himself.
This exact scenario recently happened to the Atlanta Hawks, an NBA team in Atlanta, who just fired their coach Lloyd Pierce. The majority of discontent among players of the team surrounded the coach openly blaming players for losses that were partially his fault. Players don’t have issues being held accountable if the coach is also holding themselves accountable. Where you run into trouble is when the coach refuses to be held accountable, and the blame for anything negative is on the players.
Following this news, Luke Edwards released his own bombshell report claiming that Matt Ritchie apologized and the team is focused on the West Brom match. The Chronicle confirmed this news as well, but it is of course worth mentioning that just because Matt Ritchie apologized and the team has “refocused” does not mean that the team is happy with Bruce.
Luke Edwards’ report also detailed a training schedule over this week that is legitimately less rigorous than my 10-year old cousin’s soccer training schedule. Newcastle reportedly had Monday and Thursday off in addition to the normal day off after a match. Meaning that ahead of a 6 pointer, Newcastle have practiced twice in 5 days. Given the match is on Sunday you would expect the team to train on Friday and potentially Saturday, but as of now, it feels as if Newcastle are training part-time.
Craig Hope followed up his story with an interview with TalkSport today in which he provided some more detail about his story, his sources, and the sentiment at Newcastle right now.
“Newcastle are not happy.”— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) March 4, 2021
“The club think I’m a troublemaker. I’m just reporting what’s happening.”
“The club think I’m negative as I’ve long felt Bruce isn’t the right man.”@CraigHope_DM defends his reporting of a bust-up between Steve Bruce & Matt Ritchie at #NUFC pic.twitter.com/LagCIp7tS4
Hope goes on to make the claim that the club are upset with him for publishing this story, even though as he claims “it is true and I confirmed it with people at the club”. Hope goes on to say “The club think I’m a troublemaker. I’m just reporting what’s happening”
This season it has been no secret that Steve Bruce and Craig Hope have not gotten along, but it is worth noting that the club have been very defensive of Steve Bruce this year. During this awful run of form from Newcastle, the club began to restrict press conference access for many of the print journalists who were justifiably grilling Bruce on decisions he made. Bruce has often gotten very brash at press conferences, dodges questions, and belittles journalists with no consequence.
At this point, Bruce has lost the support of the fans, most of the local media, and now the players. The only entity that is still backing Bruce is the club, and an unfavorable result this weekend could see the club finally making the decision to move on from Bruce.