Any other players with grudges towards the former Aston Villa manager have since departed.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
Cast your mind back to the last time Aston Villa met Steve Bruce, in an affair against Sheffield Wednesday that saw Albert Adomah flex his distaste for Bruce – who had previously tried to offload the 2017/18 season’s top scorer.
He hobbled towards a camera like a geriatric, slowly and with an imaginary cane in one hand, his hip in the other. Adomah had something to prove after Bruce had considered him too old to be regularly involved during the now Newcastle manager’s final months in charge.
There are a handful of players who could have potentially taken issue with Steve Bruce had they remained at the club – the likes of Mile Jedinak, Tommy Elphick and Glenn Whelan are names that spring to mind.
Of those likely to be starting against Newcastle on Monday, only a predicted four will have served under Steve previously, Messrs Nyland, McGinn, Grealish and El Ghazi. The first three don’t really have any reason to hold grudges or extra motivation to prove themselves against their former manager – but Anwar does.
Despite being signed by Steve Bruce (via a little work from Jorge Mendes too, apparently), the Geordie boss did not seem to fancy El Ghazi in the early stages of last season, with the one time Dutch international playing a limited 256 minutes of football within the Sky Bet Championship and an added 97 in a 1-0 loss to Burton in the Carabao Cup.
The lack of game time and a lack of support for what Anwar El Ghazi was attempting to achieve whilst on the pitch caused the relationship between Anwar and Bruce to simmer towards boiling point before the manager was sacked and replaced by Dean Smith.
It’s likely that the Aston Villa winger will be looking to make a point against his former boss on Monday as Newcastle travel to Villa Park for a cold, late November battle.
But interestingly, with only Anwar with something truly to prove, and only three other players that worked under Steve Bruce likely to be in the starting eleven, it’s an incredible feat to see how much progress has been made within the squad since cabbage-gate last October.
Aston Villa’s right-back, two centre-backs and left-back will all have no experience of playing under Steve Bruce, and neither will whichever holding midfielder Smith elects to choose. There’s potential for the inclusion of Conor Hourihane in this game, which may add another point to prove into the equation, but Anwar must be a nailed-on starter with Jota only recently returning to training.
It’s a good thing that this game cannot be primed in a way that a potential Mourinho against Manchester United match could. There’s already a rivalry between the two clubs, á la ‘Sob on the Tyne’, and there’s the added fact that Bruce used to rule the roost at the stadium he’s going to be playing at – but that’s about it.
If you think about it, over 60% of our playing squad on Monday won’t give a monkey’s about who the opposition manager is – and this level-headedness across most of the squad will be important.