A few days after the Norwich debacle, Michael Chopra made some inflammatory comments to talkSport about Steve Bruce and the Newcastle squad. This is what the former Newcastle striker had to say at the time:
“I’ve spoken to some senior players at the club, I won’t mention their names, and under Benitez, everything was drilled into them on the training pitch: the team shape, how they were going to play, everyday.
“Bruce has come in, and some of the players don’t know their jobs. They are not really working on their shape.
“At Newcastle for two or three years those players have overachieved under Benitez, but I don’t think some of the players are good enough for the Premier League. So they need coaching.
“They need coaching. They are not good enough.”
In his press conference prior to the win at Tottenham, Steve Bruce responded to Chopra’s comments calling them fabrications and lies. Bruce may have overdone it a little in his response, but Chopra’s comments were very disrespectful to not only Bruce but also the players at the club.
The players promptly put any assertion that they are not good enough for the Premier League to rest in their past three performances. We mentioned at the time that while the squad may be unbalanced, this core group of players are certainly good enough for this league.
This public spat between an ex-Newcastle player and current Head Coach has come up in the press again this morning. Michael Chopra has doubled down on his claims that senior players don’t know their jobs under Bruce. This is what he said in the Shields Gazette.
“Obviously, what I said was the truth. But he’s got to back his tactics, what he does with the team. He’s got to back his players.
“So, in a way, I wasn’t surprised (by Bruce’s reaction). He’s got to come out and say something. He’s got to come out and say it’s lies because I’ve said something against his team and his tactics.
“I stand by it because that’s what I got told. As a fan, I want what’s best for the club. When I get asked questions about the club, I’m honest. I won’t hold back.”
Steve Bruce doesn’t need to respond to Michael Chopra again, and we hope that he refrains from doing so. Since Chopra’s original comment, Bruce has this squad looking much better in part due to a tactical change he made that week after Norwich.
However, in a bit of a coincidence, Jonjo Shelvey has spoken about Michael Chopra’s original comments today. This is what Jonjo has said in the Chronicle:
“We had a chat in the dressing room. It was like: ‘Does anybody even know him?’ I know he played here, but he didn’t score loads of goals.
“It’s just people being busy to get their name in the paper. It’s just people who are bored. If they saw you, or Steve Bruce, in the street they’d come up to you and try to talk.
“It’s just embarrassing. People can talk, but we need to stick together and keep it all in house. We have to do our media duties and that, but you can see in recent performances that we are together.”
We tend to agree with Jonjo Shelvey’s response here. It seems to us unlikely that this squad would have said some of the things that Chopra has claimed.
This squad is starting to gel, and they just need to continue what they are doing. Steve Bruce has done a fair job under trying circumstances.
Whether he can continue the steady improvement of the last few weeks going forward, remains to be seen. But he seems to have this squad in the right place at the moment.