Steve Bruce: No Man United boss, but no joke either

Date published: Monday 30th May 2016 11:24 - Matthew Stead

What a weekend for Steve Bruce. No other manager has led four teams (Hull City and Birmingham City twice each) to promotion out of the Championship – possibly the hardest managerial task in British football. It’s a huge achievement and yet it’ll be one that many in football will all-but ignore in terms of judging his quality as a manager.
Saying you’re a fan of Steve is likely to get you laughed at, so those that are tend to keep quiet about it. It seems a little unfair really.

The paranoid ramblings by Alan Pardew and others about English managers having a tough time have, because they were totally unjustified, ironically, damaged the reputation of English managers like Bruce. He’s seen as part of that mob. The moaners, little Englanders and suffocating self-regarders, who never win anything but who seem to think
this is someone else’s fault and not their own. Many now see that sort of attitude as a marker for a kind of narrow football brain, so it damages anyone, like Bruce, caught in its shadow. As soon as Curbs or Holloway or ‘Arry start saying how great you are, it ruins your chances of being taken seriously.

But Steve has a nice way about him. He seems very self-effacing and his soft, unadorned voice lacks the blow-hard arrogance of many an over-vaunted English manager.

It probably doesn’t help in the cool or credible stakes that he absolutely does look like he belongs to another era. He is only a year older than me, but even I feel like he looks like your dad after a couple of drinks: a little hot, red-faced and swaying slightly. His appearance and the clothes he wears, down to the unfastened top button with tie loosened, do make him look like he’s a bricky toasting the bride.

And he’s what we can politely call a big unit. The sort of unit that, at times, seems to struggles to support itself in a wholly upright manner. Add in a busted nose and a slightly dazed expression and he’s an easy target for mockery. For many, he doesn’t look cool or sophisticated, so therefore he was must be a bit rubbish.

But let’s get this right: he must, absolutely must be a really very good manager. Getting four teams promoted out of the Championship is a much bigger achievement than anything Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew has ever done. It’s much bigger and better than merely surviving mid-table in the Premier League. This is his 18th year as a manager
of mostly unfashionable, scrag end, boiled potatoes and marrowfat peas football clubs.

There was a lot of flitting around in the early years, so much so that F365 used to call him the Littlest Hobo, and there’s a suspicion that the behind his easy smile and old-school Geordie accent, it’s a case of still waters run deep. Even now he is clearly unsettled at Hull City and was, even just after the play-off win, talking about having
to sort things out with the owners. It would surprise no-one if he left the club and joined another recently relegated side and got them promoted next season.

Obviously, Steve isn’t everyone’s idea of a good manager. His tenure at Sunderland was an especially loathsome period of tedium when a lot of money was spent and nothing much gained by doing so. In fact, as soon as he gets a club into the top flight, it all seems to go a bit wonky. His top-flight gigs usually end badly after a long run of terrible
form and awful football. Everywhere he’s gone, eventually fans end up against him, feeling he is ineffectual, lumpen and his teams some unpalatable flavour of eye Valium. And he can get you relegated quite easily. No-one likes that.

Even so, Bruce is always on the lips of some English pundit or fellow manager as a prospective England or Manchester United manager. Even this weekend, as Jose Mourinho was installed, Ian Holloway was saying how surprised he was that Bruce wasn’t considered a candidate for the United job. This isn’t hard to rebuff as an argument and such comments are surely not made in all seriousness. But all the same, it’s embarrassing for Bruce to be portrayed as some hard done to, overlooked man. It denigrates his actual achievements.

There is little evidence that SB is a top-notch, top-flight manager – not yet, anyway, but I’m sure he deserves more acclaim than he gets outside of the silliness from Holloway et al. But as a specialist in promotion out of the second tier, he’s peerless. That’s his forte and it’s one he should stick to.

Being a successful lower-league manager is a far greater thing than being a manager who just survives in the top flight, because you’re actually achieving something, rather than trying to make out that 17th position shows how great you are.

So, well done Steve. Top work, fella. But can you dance like Big Sam?

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