Steve Bruce is wrong about Mike Ashley at Newcastle United - the facts do not lie

Former Newcastle United manager Steve BruceFormer Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce
Former Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce | Wolves via Getty Images
Steve Bruce committed the cardinal sin of praising Mike Ashley - causing uproar among Newcastle United supporters on social media

Tottenham Hotspur should be the crux of every Newcastle United supporter’s argument when combating Mike Ashley apologists. And no, this has nothing to do with the Sports Direct tycoon’s rumoured club loyalties.

In midweek, former Magpies boss Steve Bruce dug himself a deeper hole by eulogising Ashley, a man detested by Newcastle fans for a myriad of reasons. A boyhood supporter, the 63-year-old black-and-white allegiances must have evaporated because sunflowers in the desert are more common than a Toon fan hailing Ashley.

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“It was difficult and look, I just think I was the victim,” he told talkSPORT. “We talk about FFP, the club would never be in any distress under Mike Ashley. It was a greatly run club under Mike and I know I’m going to get slaughtered for that.

“The big thing is, we never had a lot of money to spend. We would spend exactly what the club generated but that was never going to be enough to be successful.”

Like his managerial style, Bruce, who once admitted he “isn’t into tactics”, operated on gut feeling rather than fact. For what it’s worth, most of the vitriol aimed at him is unfair, with his time in the St James’ Park hot seat exhibiting the bare minimum required: keeping the club up.

Bruce’s first season resulted in Newcastle, without Salomon Rondon, Ayoze Perez, Rafa Benitez and around 10,000 season ticket holders, comfortably beating the drop. The second, Covid-impacted campaign saw the Magpies rely upon January loanee Joe Willock to save the day.

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Had Bruce left at that point, he could have done so with his head held high. But it was the perennial negativity, defeatist attitude and talking Newcastle down, coupled with a shocking start to his first season in charge, that rattled supporters.

And to preach on a national radio station two-and-a-half years after his reported £8million pay-off that Ashley steered a “greatly run” ship - is pure fiction.

When the billionaire stumped up £134million to buy the club, everything was hunky dory. He wore Newcastle colours, the debt was cleared and sinking pints in the away end made him, at least for a brief period, relatable.

The Magpies sat 13th in the worldwide revenue table. For context, they were the fifth-biggest earners in the Premier League, behind only the established “big four” of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

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Tottenham, a club self-appointed into the recently coined “big six”, with Manchester City also entering the fray, were 15th. Despite their London riches, Spurs generated €17million less in the year Ashley bought Newcastle.

Fast forward to Ashley’s exit and 14 years of ambition had taken its toll. Tottenham, as well as Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham and Leeds United now raked in more cash. Newcastle were now 29th on the list - and 12th in the Premier League.

Tottenham, by contrast, made €209million more than Newcastle in 2021, usurping them as English football’s fifth-biggest moneymakers. Worryingly for Toon chiefs, in an FFP/PSR-dominated world, the gap between the elite and the chasing pack grew larger.

Newcastle were €118million behind Man United, the division’s highest earner, before the Ashley rot set in. Translate that to €420million when he sold up almost three years ago and the uphill task of breaking into that bracket becomes clear.

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Not only that, these figures dispel the myth perpetuated by Bruce - and others - that the club was well-run under Ashley. The facts, ironically, are in black and white: Newcastle went backwards.

Commercial deals were an afterthought, as was any hope of attracting stars, enhancing the matchday experience and appealing to a global audience. Newcastle were lifeless, pimped out to Sports Direct for free advertising while the TV revenue was gobbled up for supper.

As a supposed “boyhood fan”, Bruce should know better. Parroting the lazy Ashley tropes is never going to rekindle a relationship with his people when the facts paint a polar opposite picture.

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