Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has moved swiftly to ease tensions between manager Steve Bruce and the players at St James Park by delivering sets of boxing gloves and gear to the club’s training ground this morning.
The Magpies play West Brom on Sunday in a relegation six-pointer and it remains to be seen if the players and coaching staff can bear to spend the afternoon together without wanting to kick the sh*t out of one another.
And the SportsDirect owner dipped into his own pocket* to provide all staff with gloves, head-guards and gumshields with which to spar at the facility whenever their determination to finishing 17th overflows.
It follows reports of a training pitch confrontation between the manager and midfielder Matt Ritchie earlier this week.
Bruce, 60, mistook the training complex for a pub car park on Tuesday and called out Ritchie for a ruck, the 31-year-old reportedly calling his boss “a coward” before they went at it before settling their differences later.
And one player, speaking anonymously, admitted: “I was planning on knocking the gaffer’s nose back into place on Tuesday after what he’d said at the Wolves game, but Matt beat me to it.”
The manager was highly critical of several players following their draw at the weekend, but Ashley was keen to address the issue immediately.
“It’s easier to hand out some Lonsdale tat than to pay off the gaffer’s £4million contract,” a club source explained.
Now, training gear has been taken from the SportsDirect clearance warehouse and dispersed among the players and a selection of punchbags have been installed for all staff members to unleash their frustrations – including a customised speedbag featuring the face of former Magpies boss Rafael Benitez in Bruce’s office.
“It makes a change from me being the punchbag for you lot”, the Geordie boss muttered under his breath at a tense press conference with local journalists this morning.
Though the under-pressure manager’s feud with the local press hit new heights this week following the reports of the bust-up.
“Lads, I can handle fair questions and criticism, but when you come here wearing ‘I heart Rafa’ t-shirts and goatee beards drawn on in marker, I have to draw the line.”
And there have been complaints about the amount of training the players are doing at the club from the media – and from the players who say they have too much time off.
“The pubs are closed and there’s only so much FIFA you can play. They’re bored out of their minds and the gaffer’s giving them every second day off.”
But the manager was unrepentant.
“The cricket’s back on Channel 4 lads – you don’t expect to be in at training during a test match, do you?”
* (to be recompensed at a later date with the cost of the equipment deducted from the players’ wages)
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