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.