How Fabian Schar went from Steve Bruce nightmare to Newcastle United’s pound-for-pound king

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Fabian Schar has become an instrumental figure at Newcastle United under Eddie Howe's management

In November 2021, Newcastle United were in dire straits when Eddie Howe made his first bold decision in the St James’ Park hot seat. The threat of relegation loomed, with the Magpies reduced to a bunch of confidence-bereft cloggers who could not buy a goal let alone a win.

Bravery has been a common theme throughout Howe’s reign. The Newcastle boss used that exact word when describing his managerial philosophy and Fabian Schar, the formerly forgotten man, boasts the honour of being Howe’s first courageous decision.

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It was Schar’s inclusion against Brentford - Howe’s maiden Toon game - which raised the most eyebrows. He had been benched for the previous eight Premier League fixtures, with Ciaran Clark, Federico Fernandez and Jamaal Lascelles preferred as a back three.

Drafting Schar in from the cold was a sign that Newcastle would no longer fear being expansive from the back. The negative, offensively impotent days were over - and the Swiss international was about to take centre stage.

But Schar was the nearly man from the moment he arrived on Tyneside. Rafa Benitez, the man who poached him for just £3million in 2018, brutally confessed to signing him as a last resort.

“He cost £3million,” he said. “I knew him when he was at Basel but also at Deportivo la Coruna. I have some friends there and they told me about the (relegation) release clause and we started analysing things.

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"I would be lying if I said he was always the first target, but we knew he could come in and help. We knew he had experience and had some quality on the ball, especially with his right foot. He has done really well. We have some good centre-backs."

But how that backup plan proved a masterstroke as Schar would repay that fee tenfold. It took until November for him to become a regular but, when he did, the Magpies won three on the bounce - their first Premier League victories of the season.

His trademark goalscoring knack - on show against Aston Villa on Tuesday - soon came to the fore. A rocket against Burnley in February 2019 was when Newcastle fans realised the man can bang. Four goals in his debut campaign meant Schar finished third in United’s top-scorer charts - a feat which helped him scoop the North East Writers’ Player of the Year award.

However, his fortunes U-turned once Steve Bruce arrived. The swagger, that diagonal pass and those charging forward runs were no more.

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Schar was outcasted, with his unrealised potential embodying the club as a whole. Players of a similar age who are now languishing in menial leagues were given the nod while Schar was regularly dropped and, on occasion, deployed as a midfielder.

At one point, the centre-back could not bear the thought of turning up to training. He said about his lowest ebb last year: “For me, there were times when I didn’t want to come in. I couldn’t see myself here long term, to be honest, because I didn’t get any trust from the manager.

“But since the new owners, the manager (Howe), everything completely changed. I’m so happy for myself that I’m in this position now, being in the team, playing games, and the team’s doing well. I appreciate it a lot.”

Fast forward to the present and Schar is purring, eulogised by Newcastle fans as the club’s pound-for-pound king. Forget tenfold, that £3million release clause now appears a zillionth of what it would cost, despite his age, to prise him from St James’ Park.

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His performance against Paris Saint-Germain in October was arguably the finest from a Newcastle defender - being rounded off by a routine Schar screamer. And when the Magpies needed to pull a result out of nowhere, the 32-year-old was there - twice - to put a resurgent Aston Villa to the sword.

A parable of resilience, Newcastle fans can relate to Schar’s story from zero to hero. No Toon supporter would dare compile a greatest bargains list without including their Swiss magician. With Sven Botman back alongside him as his rock, the Magpies can relish the chance of repeating last season’s defensive heroics from now until May.

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