STEVE BRUCE has dismissed suggestions from angry fans that he is a “puppet” for Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley.

The new Magpies head coach was speaking at his first press conference in Shanghai ahead of his first game in charge, the Asia Cup game with West Ham on Saturday.

Bruce has had to deal with criticism already following his appointment, including from close friend and former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer who advised him not to take the reins at St James’ Park.

Bruce said: “Make no mistake – it’s going to be difficult. I’m under no illusions. My eyes are wide open to it. I’ve got big boots to fill, but I’m delighted to be given the opportunity. I couldn't really refuse the opportunity.”

He added: “Alan’s a big, big friend of mine, and he’s welcome to his opinions. I understand the challenge that lays ahead. I’m not everybody’s cup of tea and I’m not Rafa Benitez. However, I’m confident enough in my experience, and the people I’ve brought in, that we can continue to take the club forward.”

Newcastle are close to securing Bruce’s first signing after agreeing a few for Brazilian striker Joelinton.

That player has been on the club’s radar for months but Bruce has given it the go-ahead too; and he stressed he was not a “puppet” of owner Mike Ashley.

“I don't think it comes into the equation,” said Bruce. “Am I in charge of transfers or am I a puppet? That won't happen, of course. That's the sort of thing i'm referring to.”