Steve Bruce – Good Manager or Someone with Friends in the Right Places?

Posted on: Apr 8, 2012 in Premier League

The PR offensive that follows a manager’s sacking is always intriguing to watch.

The unemployed manager, looking refreshed after a few weeks on an exclusive Caribbean island, having had time to come up with every excuse under the exclusive Caribbean sun for his disastrous performance, appears on every TV and radio show available, repeating his version of events ad nauseum. A version of events that is designed to deflect any blame from himself, and remind gullible chairman up and down the country that he’s available for work, and that whatever failings he’s accused of aren’t his fault.

The latest example is Steve Bruce, who over the past few weeks has been doing the rounds relaying his version of events; a version that unfortunately is so far removed from reality that any journalist or presenter with a modicum of intelligence could challenge him for weeks.

Unfortunately, the press pack these days is an extended old boys network, in which they dare not utter a word of criticism for fear of doing the wrong thing, and would rather shy away from a question that could be perceived as tough than put a mate on the spot.

Bruce’s ‘charm offensive’, to anyone with a remote understanding of his tenure at Sunderland, is as blatant an attempt at rewriting history than you’re ever likely to see. A job at the Iraqi Ministry of (mis)Information surely beckons should he fail to secure further football employment.

Take his comments this week: Sunderland fans’ hatred of him due to his Newcastle supporting roots are to blame, losing players at the end of last season is to blame, and fans putting too much importance on the derby games is to blame. Oh, and not being given enough time. That was to blame too. The last excuse from the failed manager’s book of ready made excuses.

Of course, it was nothing to do with 29 wins in 98 games, a win ratio of below 29% (to put that in context, the much maligned Graeme Souness had a 43% win ratio north of the Tyne, and 41% on the Mersey; Avram Grant’s ‘disastrous’ spell at West Ham saw a win ratio of 32%, Paul Ince recorded 29% and Brian Kidd 27% at Blackburn, while even Chris Hutchings had a win ratio of 33% at Bradford. Hardly a glowing endorsement of Bruce’s abilities).

Nothing to do with 3 home wins in 2011.

Nothing to do with 2 wins in 13 games at the start of this season.

Nothing to do with signing too many players on loan.

Nothing to do with Bruce building up the derby matches, to the extent he was boasting about what celebration song he was going to play over the Tannoy system in January 2011 if Sunderland won. Which they didn’t.

It’s a pathetic, bitter assessment from a man who was welcomed and supported from the off, at a club who has a statue of a former Newcastle United captain outside its ground. Do the business at Sunderland or any football club, and it doesn’t matter if you’re from Newcastle, The Netherlands or Neptune. It’s downright insulting, inaccurate and irresponsible, and a smokescreen the Great Soprendo would be proud of.

He has even had the audacity to claim that he’s the reason Sunderland have done well since he left, as it’s all his hard work paying off. His signings are doing well (including James McClean, who’s been a revelation but who Bruce didn’t give a second of first team action). He doesn’t see the irony in this, or how insulting that is to his successor. He doesn’t see that Martin O’Neill has done incredibly better with the same set of players as he had at his disposal.

O’Neill has got Sunderland organised, motivated and working hard. They’re a fitter, more confident and more focused team, and that’s to do with the manager. The fact O’Neill is doing well with Bruce’s players is a reflection of both of their managerial abilities. And unfortunately for Bruce, under the slightest bit of scrutiny, it doesn’t reflect well on him.

The simple facts are that after a very good start as Sunderland manager, Bruce wasn’t up to it, and actually isn’t up to it. Sunderland went on prolonged periods without a win. The fast, pressing game he employed in the early days to maximise Bent’s effectiveness was abandoned for a slow passing style, which while it looked aesthetically pleasing was less effective. And as it became less effective, Bruce cut an increasingly hopeless figure on the sidelines, often looking up to heaven rather than his bench for inspiration.

The loss of Albanian club captain Lorik Cana without a fight was careless. The departure of Bent in similar circumstances was neglectful, and Gyan downright incompetent. Yes, they all wanted to leave (within 12 months of Bruce signing them), but part of a manager’s job is to keep good players happy and motivated.

Yes, he guided Sunderland to 10th last season. The league table doesn’t lie. The fact they were eight points off relegation suggests it was less than convincing. He took over a club that finished 17th, and left them in 18th position, via a 13th and 10th placed finish. Progress? Not quite.

His biggest success at Sunderland was using the media to convince the footballing world that the decidedly average Jordan Henderson was worth any more than a pocketful of loose change. And he’s now using the media again.You can’t blame him, but no matter what spin Bruce and his media chums put on his managerial record, the fact is, at Sunderland, he was a failure. Will prospective employers fall for the media spin? Probably. Because that’s the way it works. Expect Alex Ferguson to speak up for his former skipper again soon. Expect Bruce, fully resplendent in new club tracksuit, in a dug out near you soon. And in two or three years time, the whole media roadshow will start again.


About the author

Martin Wanless is a publishing professional with over 12 years' experience. He currently runs the editorial department of Sydney-based Mahlab Media, after moving to Australia from the UK in 2010, and enjoys watching, reading and writing about sport in his spare time. An avid watcher of the Premier League, Martin can be found in the early hours of every Sunday morning watching Premier League matches live with matchsticks propping open his eyes.


Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/martywan



14 Comments

  • About time we had an accurate Bruce article! I just wish all journos could get the McClean thing right – Bruce didn’t sign him. Or discover him! He was Scouted by Bryan pop Robson whilst at Chelsea, and then recommended to and subsequently signed by Niall Quinn. There are several interviews with Quinn available on YouTube – including an appearance on the RTE networks “latelate show” broadcast in March 2012, where he explains this all in great detail. For Bruce to take credit for signing Jimmy Mac is perhaps the biggest and most insulting lie of all.

  • Thats the most accurate assessment of the Bruce era at Sunderland that I’ve read. Broadsheet journalists should have been asking the same questions, but they don’t, as to not rock the boat. Sunderland fans are sick and tired of being the villains of the piece in the medias eyes, but we’re just thankful for MoN for turning our team around.

    Great article, keep up the good work

  • At last someone tells how it is or was Bruce should never work in football again but will somewhere

  • At last someone who is talking sense and echos what the majority of Sunderland fans are thinking. Overall Bruce did a decent job, finishing13th and 10th represented progress, but this season he almost certainly lost it. Steve Excuse blamed everyone but himself, truth is O’neill is a far superior manager and we were right to sack Bruce. Bruce is a bottom half premier manager at best, his record proves this. He gets jobs because he is excellent in the transfer market, just a shame he doesn’t know what to do with the players

  • Excellent article, hope this is sent in to the next show Bruce pops up on with his mates. Wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is ignored though.

  • At last, someone who puts the alternative and correct side of the argument.
    For far too long Steve Bruce has had a free run at blaming everything and everyone else for his all-too-obvious failings. He has been given a platform for peddling his half truths and fantasies all over the media without seemingly ever being challenged about the real issues that have been outlined here.
    Thank goodness that someone has finally tried to redress the balance, although I fear that the old boys club will continue to allow him unlimited opportunity to blacken the reputation of SAFC and its supporters.

  • Written by a true mackem. I remember when the whole of Tyneside were devoured by jealousy at the coup of Steve Bruce joining SAFC and thus turning his back on the Black and Whites.
    Yes, the mackem made THAT accusation. Honest.

    • Graeme – Individual people can make outlandish claims, however let’s deal with reality.

      Bruce failing at Sunderland had absolutely nothing to do with his Newcastle supporting childhood, nor the NUFC v SAFC rivalry.

      It does have, however, everything to do with results. Despite what Bruce and the mainstream media will have you believe.

      There’s no great conspiracy here, he simply wasn’t very good at his job, and if he didn’t have a strong boardroom supporter in the shape of Quinn, he probably would have been shown the exit door a lot earlier.

  • Great article. So glad to read the facts instead of the rubbish Bruce is constantly embarrassing himself with. He done what was required in establishing us in the Premier League but on the whole, wasn’t as good as we wanted/expected. He seems a lonely, deluded man whos stuck up his own arse and fails to see that with him in charge, we’d probably be in a position similar to Wigan.

  • Jesus Christ, is that really 114 Facebook reccomends?! Great article Martin! Bruce has been banging on about how he’s innocent of the accusations levelled against him for far too long. If only someone would force him to read this, although he’s probably so deluded he’d ignore the facts and go around blaming everyone else like he usually does.

  • I remember Sir Alex Ferguson making an interesting point earlier in the season when he said that he felt the undoing of Steve Bruce at Sunderland had been that he had brought in a lot of new signings in too short a space of time, or words to that effect. Looking back, his problems really began from the moment that Darren Bent left for Aston Villa. They never properly replaced him under Bruce’s watch or found a way of adapting. Losing Asamoah Gyan exacerbated the problem, but it was also surprising how disorganised Sunderland were defensively under his tenure, when you consider that Bruce was a central defender of some distinction and so you would expect this to be an area for which he would have some answers.

    I don’t think Bruce is as bad a manager as some do, but I would say that he seems to be best suited to being a ‘firefighter’. The best spells of his managerial career were in his early years at Birmingham and in his second spell at Wigan. At the latter, he carved out a niche by bringing in good players for relatively small amounts only to sell on at a profit. Players such as Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios immediately spring to mind. I would suggest that in the future he is going to be best suited to managing lower end Premier League clubs or mid-table Championship sides where he is required to manipulate the transfer market in order to compete. The tactical side of the game is certainly not his strong suit and he has been too long retired now to be commanding respect for his performances as a player as he did to a certain degree in his early years as a manager.

  • Agree with this article.
    Might I also add if you go outside of Sunderlands ground you will find a large statue to an ex Newcastle player Bob Stokoe, Maybe we don’t hate all Geordies just shit Managers like Bruce

  • Excellent article. I have zero respect for Steve Bruce, who has shown himself to not only be a bad football manager, but also a bitter and twisted individual.

    The old boys network in the media is completely tedious, witness how Harry Rednapp is automatic England manager purely because he plays golf with half of Fleet Street and makes sure he keeps the journos on side.

  • Hoorah, terrific article Martin. Im sure we all when looking for work, sing our own praises and tend not to go into detail to prospective employers about our own weaknesses, i understand that. What I think is totally unacceptable has been and still is the way Bruce insults the fans and blames them. To suggest we are over expectant, lucky to be where we are, bigoted and small minded as to the areas someone is from has been disgusting to say the least. The fact the fans didnt go mental early on when he was struggling and trying to say the fans dont know how lucky we were and should take a reality check; to me just proves how patient we were. The rubbish we have served up over the years going up and down even with record low points and i cant ever remember the fans turning on a manager, a chairman or two maybe but not the managers. If we werent so patient and easy targets due to our dosility and good faith, he wouldnt dare insult us. To me the fact he can insult us without fear for his welfare proves in itself he is wrong.