Enter Hitzfeld but Bruce is still No 1

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The Independent Football

Another day, another supposed managerial sighting on Tyneside. Hard on the heels of Terry Venables and Gordon Strachan, Ottmar Hitzfeld was said to be in Toon yesterday, pressing his claims for the vacant managerial job at Newcastle United.

Another day, another supposed managerial sighting on Tyneside. Hard on the heels of Terry Venables and Gordon Strachan, Ottmar Hitzfeld was said to be in Toon yesterday, pressing his claims for the vacant managerial job at Newcastle United.

Although the reports were unconfirmed, the most successful coach in the history of German club football is understood to be the one overseas candidate being seriously considered by the Newcastle board as they seek a replacement for the sacked Sir Bobby Robson. That is not just because of Hitzfeld's record as the first coach to win the European Cup with two different clubs (Borussia Dortmund in 1997, Bayern Munich in 2001), but also because of his reputation as a strict disciplinarian.

At Bayern, Hitzfeld inherited a team with the derisory nickname "FC Hollywood" and proceeded to clear out a host of high-profile under-achievers - Lothar Matthäus, Thomas Helmer, Mehmet Scholl, Giovane Elber - while steering the Munich club to Champions' League success. "I am the boss, an authoritarian one," he said at the time.

Hitzfeld has not been a boss since May, when Bayern decided to replace him with Felix Magath. He is understood to be keen to prove himself in the English Premiership, although his prospects of being given a chance to do so at Newcastle depend on what Steve Bruce decides during a weekend of contemplation in Portugal.

Despite last week declaring his intention "to see the job through" with Birmingham City, the native Tynesider is believed to be torn by Newcastle's continued pursuit of him. Born and raised at Wallsend, on the banks of the Tyne, Bruce was a Newcastle United fanatic in his youth and acted as a ball boy for the club when they lost to Manchester City in the 1976 League Cup final at Wembley.

"I was black-and-white daft," he confessed before one return trip to Tyneside. "I idolised Joe Harvey's team in the early 1970s, especially Malcolm Macdonald and Tony Green. They were my heroes."

Bruce had trials with his beloved black-and-whites during the 1975-76 season, but failed to make a big impression on Gordon Lee, the manager at the time. "I used to go up to the old Benwell training ground on Thursday nights, but nothing happened," he reflected. "I mustn't have impressed them. I would have loved to have been a Geordie in the Newcastle side, like Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle

and Paul Gascoigne."

Bruce, who played alongside Beardsley for Wallsend Boys' Club, remains top of the shortlist drawn up by the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd - even though Birmingham have rejected a £3m compensation deal. Armed with £13.4m from the sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid, Newcastle are prepared to pay to get their man.

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