Newcastle reporter notebook: Steve Bruce succeeds where Rafa Benitez failed

Sky Sports News‘ North East reporter Keith Downie reflects on Newcastle’s spending spree that saw Mike Ashley relax his transfer policy after 13 years in charge…

It says a lot about Steve Bruce’s man-management skills and powers of persuasion that he has managed to coax even the most single-minded of men to change their long-standing traits.

Make no mistake, the Newcastle United manager has done what many others have failed to do before him: he’s charmed Mike Ashley into relaxing his transfer policy after 13 years at the helm.

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Ashley upped Bruce’s budget from £30m to more than £40m after a personal plea from his manager to allow him to bring in his key targets.

It’s resulted in Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis arriving in the space of 24 hours to sign long-term, lucrative contracts at St James’ Park.

This surprising spending spree comes less than six weeks after the breakdown of the Saudi-backed takeover that has left Ashley and most notably the club’s loyal fanbase dejected – but more on that later.

Without a doubt, Bruce has worked on his employer and convinced him that he knows best for the way forward for a club still reeling from the takeover grounding to a halt.

While Lewis (a 22-year-old Northern Ireland international full-back) and Fraser (a 26-year-old free transfer) are both deals that the club may have considered before, the case of £20m man Wilson is a lot more unusual.

At 28, and having suffered two serious knee injuries during his time at Bournemouth, the four-times capped England striker is not one the Newcastle owner would previously have taken a chance on, never mind made their third-highest paid transfer fee.

Wilson has in fact been linked with Newcastle a number of times in the past but a deal had never materialised.

But Bruce has managed to persuade Ashley that the best is still to come from Wilson, and that he will score the goals to take Newcastle back up into the top half of the league again.

When I interviewed the England man just after signing his deal on Tuesday, the determination in both his voice and his eyes was clear.

Wilson was out running alone on the training pitches with the ink yet to dry on his contract. He is evidently excited to be on Tyneside and desperate to pay back his new manager’s faith – and quickly.

He also has a great record against West Ham, which he was keen to point out to me during our chat. Of course, Newcastle open their campaign at the London Stadium on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports.

The capture of Wilson, who will have little re-sale value when his contract ends in 2024, is in stark contrast to the marquee striker arrival last summer.

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A club-record £40m was splashed out on Brazilian striker Joelinton, who had never kicked a ball in the Premier League before.

Fast forward a year, and the 24-year-old has just two top-flight goals to his name. Joelinton’s time may yet come, but Bruce made the plea for players with Premier League experience – and that’s what he has got.

Even Rafa Benitez only managed to get Salomon Rondon on-loan, despite insisting to Ashley that the Venezuelan should be bought in a permanent deal. Benitez wasn’t slow to vent his frustration at being made to work with what he felt were his hands tied.

But Bruce has just got on with the job while charming Ashley in the background. He convinced him to sign 31-year-old Andy Carroll on Deadline Day last August, before also bringing in Spurs’ Danny Rose on-loan in January.

Wilson however is his biggest victory, with the club’s scouting department presenting other options to the man controlling the purse strings.

Fraser, Lewis and Jeff Hendrick are also players Bruce made clear he wanted to bring to the club. British and Irish-style players who are ready to walk into the first team without time to adjust.

He still has two loan deals to be creative with. Expect one to be used on a centre-back, while there is interest in young strikers Rhian Brewster and Eddie Nketiah at Liverpool and Arsenal respectively.

But the bulk of the club’s spending is over for this window, after a manic few days on Tyneside.

And so to the takeover: this week’s triple signing has allowed Newcastle’s weary fans to smile once again after a summer of pain.

Sources close to Ashley are telling us he remains 100 per cent committed to bringing Amanda Staveley’s Saudi-backed consortium to the table again.

And while he is not shutting the door on anyone else, the only group that ever showed him the true colour of their money were PIF/PCP.

Despite spending £500,000 to look over the books, American Henry Mauriss never provided proof of funds and the Bellagraph Nova group never got past Ashley’s lawyers who filter those interested.

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