Paulo Fonseca is in advanced talks with Newcastle United after emerging as the leading contender to replace Steve Bruce, who departed St James’ Park by “mutual consent” on Wednesday morning.
Fonseca, a 48-year-old Portuguese previously in charge of Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma, is out of work and keen on working for Newcastle’s new Saudi Arabian-led owners. He came close to taking over at Tottenham in the summer and is believed to be admired by Amanda Staveley, the minority shareholder and director with responsibility for day-to-day running of the club.
Although Fonseca has been in contact with Newcastle’s owners since late summer no final decision has been made and other managers, including Roberto Martínez, Frank Lampard, Lucien Favre, Steven Gerrard and Eddie Howe, remain under consideration.
Martínez, the Belgium coach, is thought to be interested in a job which would reunite him with his former assistant Graeme Jones. Jones, most recently Bruce’s No 2, has been placed in caretaker charge of Newcastle and is set to be in the technical area at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Bruce kept Newcastle in the Premier League for the past two seasons but has proved deeply unpopular with fans left heartbroken when his predecessor, the much adored Rafael Benítez, resigned in June 2019. As the team have struggled this season – failing to win a game – the hostility towards the 60-year-old intensified.
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On Wednesday Bruce – who presided over his 1,000th match as a manager when Newcastle lost 3-2 at home to Tottenham last Sunday – said he would probably retire as he was reluctant to put his wife and family through the sort of extreme stress they have endured over the past two years.
Although Bruce’s hurt will have been softened by a generous payoff agreed with the previous owner, Mike Ashley, and believed to be in the region of £7m, the experience of managing the club he supported as a boy has clearly been painful. “It has been very, very tough,” he told the Telegraph. “To never really be wanted, to feel that people wanted me to fail, to read people constantly saying I would fail, that I was useless, a fat waste of space, a stupid, tactically inept cabbage head or whatever. It was ridiculous and persistent even when results were good.
“I think this might be my last job. It’s taken its toll on my whole family and I can’t ignore that. They’ve been worried about me – especially my wife Jan.”
Bruce, though, was not without support inside St James’ Park. Allan Saint-Maximin, Newcastle’s French winger and a player vital to the head coach tasked with steering the team out of the relegation zone, tweeted that it had been “an honour and a privilege” to be coached by the former Sheffield United, Huddersfield, Birmingham, Crystal Palace, Wigan, Sunderland, Hull, Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday manager.
“You are, without doubt, one of the most gentle people that I have met in the world of football,” wrote Saint-Maximin. “You have been a man of your word, a caring man and a fair man who never hesitated to protect us. I will never forget how you treated me.”
Saint-Maximin could also relish playing for Fonseca, a coach who has built his reputation on constructing attack-minded sides. The Portuguese is understood to have done extensive homework on Newcastle and devised potential gameplans for impending fixtures. The club’s decision makers – the Saudi-based nonexecutive chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan, Staveley and her fellow director and minority shareholder Jamie Reuben – would prefer a swift appointment but they are determined to conduct exhaustive due diligence.
Meanwhile Newcastle have announced that the fan who collapsed with a cardiac arrest during the Tottenham game is progressing well and looking forward to returning to St James’ Park. Alan George Smith, 80, is alert and walking in the specialist heart unit at the city’s Freeman Hospital and hopes to be discharged soon.