THERE was a moment during Newcastle’s 4-1 win at Bournemouth on Wednesday night when Steve Bruce could not contain himself any longer. As Allan Saint-Maximin embarked on his latest slaloming dribble through a bamboozled Bournemouth defence, Bruce turned back towards the Newcastle dugout with a child-like look of astonishment on his face.

Like everyone else watching on at home, the Newcastle manager could not quite believe what the 23-year-old was doing. It is a sentiment he has experienced on a number of occasions this season – and not always in a good way.

“Oh, there’s been times where I’ve lost my temper with him – but I’m not going to tell you what they were,” laughed Bruce. “There have been one or two moments, but he needs to be reminded of that now and again.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how he responds to it, and the great thing about him, the enjoyable thing, is he just loves playing football. He’s like a kid in the playground again.

“Players with real natural ability are like that. He is hard work at times, there’s no disputing that, but as long as he keeps performing, we will manage him the best way we can and try to unlock the vast potential he has.”

Sometimes, the hardest players to manage are the ones that are really worth the fight. Patrick Vieira, Saint-Maximin’s previous manager at Nice, gave up battling towards the end of last season, reluctantly concluding that the winger’s various downsides outweighed his undoubted quality on the pitch.

The pair’s relationship began to break down in February 2019, when Saint-Maximin withdrew from the Nice squad on the morning of a game citing an illness and Vieira effectively accused him of making up the whole episode. “He didn’t have a fever, he didn’t have anything,” said the former France midfielder.

Saint-Maximin was fined for skipping training two months later, and for Vieira, the final straw came later in April when the winger filmed himself drinking in a club in Monaco at five in the morning, a matter of hours after Nice had suffered an embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Caen.

There have been none of those episodes during Saint-Maximin’s time on Tyneside – instead, the 23-year-old has used social media to show himself helping out at a Newcastle food bank and dribbling in his back garden with his dog – but there have definitely been moments when the Frenchman’s individuality has stood out.

“When you get somebody like he is, of course they are different to manage,” admitted Bruce. “That’s on the field, and off it too. When you get yourself a bit of a reputation, which Allan seemed to have, then of course it’s going to test your managerial skills. That’s what it’s all about.

“The great thing about Allan, and the one thing you certainly can’t deny if you follow him on Instagram or whatever, is that he’s always playing football. Whether it was in the lockdown when he was dribbling against his mates in his garden or his dog or whatever, he’s got a genuine love for the game. He’s got a great enthusiasm for the game of football, and that, for me, outweighs anything else.

“Of course round the edges, he can be different. I don’t know how many times I’ve fined him for the earrings and headbands and all sorts. But I think he’s coming to terms with what we expect from him, and you’re certainly seeing that in his performances.”

Like a number of Newcastle players, Saint-Maximin has benefited from Bruce’s tactical tweak that saw the abandonment of the previous system with five at the back and the introduction of a more positive-minded formation with a flat back four.

Instead of being constantly expected to track back, Saint-Maximin has been granted the license to play higher up the field, with Bruce actively encouraging him to take on the opposition in the final third.

“When you look at the other night, and the second goal in particular - the one he makes for Sean (Longstaff) - I think there’s only him on the pitch who could produce a bit of skill like that.”