Steve Bruce is not a particularly impatient man but even he has had enough. “We need the people who are making that decision to make it,” he says. “And we need them to be quick about it.”
No prizes for guessing Newcastle’s manager is referring to his club’s takeover saga. It is three months since the Premier League first considered whether to approve the contentious Saudi Arabian-funded buyout from Mike Ashley. The wait for a resolution has become wearing.
A week ago sources close to the deal and some who had opposed it indicated a verdict from Richard Masters, the Premier League’s chief executive, was imminent and approval expected. With the UK government understood to be in favour and Saudi Arabia cracking down on the broadcast piracy that had prompted much of the delay, there was a sense Newcastle would kick off against Manchester City in the FA Cup at St James’ Park on Sunday under new ownership.
Instead there will be no Gulf derby between the United Arab Emirates (City are controlled from Abu Dhabi) and Saudi Arabia, leaving Bruce increasingly frustrated. “I think all of us feel this decision just has to be made,” he says. “It’s become tedious.”
Newcastle’s first FA Cup quarter-final since 2005 not only provides a welcome distraction but vindicates Bruce’s decision to prioritise the cups. No major silverware has arrived on Gallowgate since the Fairs Cup in 1969, while Newcastle’s last domestic trophy arrived in 1955 when Manchester City were beaten in the FA Cup final. Bruce – a ballboy at Wembley in 1976 when the Tynesiders lost the League Cup final to City – struggles to comprehend the drought.
“Even I wasn’t around in 1955,” the 59-year-old said. “How can a club of this stature have gone so long without winning anything? That’s got to be the priority now, whoever’s sitting in this chair. Maybe it’ll be this year, we’ve given ourselves a wonderful opportunity.
“We’ve got the attacking capability with Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin in particular. Allan’s natural ability can cause any defender problems. You need resilience against City but, at the top end of the pitch, we do have players who can cause them problems, who can do some damage.”
Bruce has also had a fit Andy Carroll knocking on his office door, asking to start. Eyebrows were raised when the 31-year-old one-time England centre-forward signed a new one-year contract last week but his manager did not rank among the dissenters. “Lockdown’s done Andy the world of good,” Bruce says. “He’s trained well and lost five kilos, which is a hell of a lot of weight. So, touch wood, let’s hope he stays there.
“Andy knocked on my door and said he wanted to be in the starting XI. That would never have happened before lockdown because he didn’t have the fitness levels. I was quietly delighted when he walked out of the room. He really deserves his new contract.”
Carroll has his strengths – despite failing to score in 16 appearances, he has created important goals – but should Masters finally approve Newcastle’s takeover, Bruce could soon be dealing in a very different market.
“Let’s hope Kevin De Bruyne gets a little bit fed up with Manchester City and comes and gives us a hand in midfield,” he says, smiling. “That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”