Newcastle legend Alan Shearer has penned a lengthy column scrutinising the current problems engulfing the club – admitting the current predicament “hurts the eyes, hurts the heart and hurts the soul”. The Premier League’s top goalscorer of all time has laid into the club’s hierarchy and in particular owner Mike Ashley, insisting under-fire manager Steve Bruce has a tough task given those who have the ultimate power above him.
Many Newcastle fans are eager for owner Ashley to axe Bruce with the Magpies having served up some woeful recent performances which have resulted in an eight-match winless streak across all competitions, culminating in FA Cup and Carabao Cup exits.
The latest low came with their Premier League defeat to Sheffield United in midweek with the Blades having failed to win any of their previous 20 top-flight matches before then, also keeping a first clean sheet since July 11 with their 1-0 win.
But Shearer insists that while the football is turgid, any other manager following Benitez into St James’ Park would be facing the same difficulties as Bruce is currently battling in the north east.
Spanish coach Benitez left Newcastle in the summer of 2019 after failing to agree a new contract with the club and was beloved by supporters, who were furious he was allowed to leave so easily.
And Shearer, Newcastle’s greatest ever player, wrote in a longread column for The Athletic that as long as Ashley remains at the top, any manager will struggle to replicate Benitez’s success in the job, even if Bruce is replaced.
Shearer said: “The head coach – yes, head coach, not manager – is a friend of mine and the same goes for Steve Harper, the first-team coach.
“I know the human beings behind the titles and so I know how much they care, how desperate they are to do well, how much they and their families feel it, too.
“To repeat: Newcastle are a difficult club, largely because of their difficult owner, and if this difficult column has a point, it is to explain that difficulty and put it into context. Like I said, it hurts.
“There have been too many bad decisions to go into, but it explains why there was so much excitement about a takeover last year, about the prospect of something, anything, different.
“Hope will not return – not in any meaningful way – until there’s a change at the top of the club, whose stadium and training ground is beginning to look tatty and old.
“And because that change did not happen, this season has felt like the worst of hangovers, when everybody is tired and irritable.
“The football, by and large, has followed suit. Newcastle are not a good watch, to put it mildly. They haven’t been for a long while. And so they haven’t changed the mood or the story.
“Given everything he had to deal with, with the circumstances he walked into – a feeling of depression, a lack of goals, the lack of a striker – Steve deserved credit last season, particularly in terms of where they finished, but it is not a team which provides uplift.
“There should be some mitigation this time, as well – COVID-19, the number of games, the lack of pre-season – and what really irks me is how little protection Steve has received from the people above him. Where is Lee Charnley (the managing director)?
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“What happened to that statement of his where he admitted the error of not communicating with fans? Where is his backing for the manager? Where is the strategy? Come on, Lee, where are you? Where is anyone, aside from Steve?
“I suppose I should clarify this isn’t something I’ve spoken to Steve about and I wouldn’t want to. When we have conversations now it’s not about formations or results, it’s ‘How’s things, what are you up to?’
“But I can’t believe he’s having to deal with questions about furloughing staff, giving tickets away, about coronavirus, about a takeover. These shouldn’t be issues for the manager. It’s a tough and lonely enough job as it is. The point is, he’s on his own.
“And this was why I said at the time that I wish Steve hadn’t replaced Rafa Benitez, that I had grave reservations about what might happen down the road. The road leads here.
“It would have been the same if somebody else had come in and it will be the same for the next manager and the one after that if nothing else changes, because it’s the way Newcastle are built under Ashley. The manager takes it all on his shoulders; a concentration of anger, stretching back years.
“The fact that Rafa left for the reasons he did, tells you what a difficult club it is, but Steve wanted to manage Newcastle and I respected that and left him to it. I can certainly understand it.”
While Shearer labelled also laid blame at the feet of blame of the players for the loss to Sheffield United, insisting: “What I see – and what I feel – is an emptiness, a club that simply exists. What I saw against Sheffield United the other night was barely even that.
“Did anybody check for a pulse? Facing a team that are rock bottom of the Premier League, that had failed to win all season, Newcastle were bloody awful.
“There’s no getting away from it – that first half was as bad as it gets, compounded when Ryan Fraser was sent off for two pathetic yellow cards, two nonsense tackles. The players have to take some responsibility, but there are no excuses.”
And the former striker and captain, who scored 206 goals in 405 appearances at Newcastle, added: “You have to accept the criticism coming your way and Steve has been in the game long enough to understand that.
“This is not the Newcastle United we all want and this is not the Newcastle United we should accept and that’s why there’s so much disappointment and disquiet and hurt.
“That’s why the manager always becomes the focal point. It’s a club which has no real relationship with its supporters. It’s a club that’s creaking, that’s existing and very little else. It needs hope again. It needs love.”