If Hull City had prolonged Arsenal’s nine year wait for a trophy last weekend, it would have been a fitting way to cement Steve Bruce’s reputation as one of England’s brightest managers with a record that spoke (and speaks still) for itself.
It would have been quite a journey when you consider his early beginnings in management, flitting between club to club for fleeting periods that portrayed an image of him as the most unreliable boss in football alongside Kevin Keegan. He has certainly changed that perception since, and arguably had to achieve more to rid him of that image than others.
He spent a solitary season in charge of Sheffield United for the 1998-99 season, guiding them to a slightly disappointing ninth place then left over disagreements largely concerning a lack of funds for transfers.
Getting sacked, albeit harshly, after just over a year into his next job at Huddersfield Town having guided the club to within two points of the First Division (now Championship) play-offs with a points total that would have normally been enough to finish in the top six signalled a tempestuous start to Bruce’s managerial career.
A two month spell at Wigan Athletic was followed by Bruce resigning three months into the 2001-02 campaign with Crystal Palace so he could join Birmingham City, the club where he would finally settle into a managerial role that would last for more than one season.
He made a great start by getting the Midlands club promoted via the play-offs in his first campaign and made a decent shot of it in the Premiership finishing in a respectable 13th place, their highest placing in 16 years.
They then bettered that by coming 10th the following season and 12th thereafter, but it soon turned sour with relegation in the next. The club had been out of the top-flight for nearly two decades, including a spell in the third tier, so he did well to keep The Blues there for three years.
David Sullivan and David Gold should be praised for their willingness to stick with him, which was a bright idea seeing as Bruce knew the club and what was needed to bring back the good days (it’s a shame other owners do not approach these situations in the same way).Another promotion followed, but so did disputes with the board, particularly with Managing Director, Karen Brady. Rejoining Wigan, he kept them in the Premiership then led them to an 11th place finish improving on their 14th placing the year before.
His eye for ‘better things’ opened wide when he was offered the main job at Sunderland. Being the bitter rivals of his boyhood heroes Newcastle United arguably proved to be his undoing as he was sacked in November of the 2011-12 campaign despite coming 13th and then 10th with a team that came 16th just before he was appointed.
One way of determining what value a manager or player has on a side is where they go after they have gone. Sunderland, as it happens have been in relegation scraps in the two full seasons since Bruce was given his marching orders.
Not that he needed to save his reputation following his tenure at Sunderland, but nevertheless that is what he has achieved with Hull in guiding them to a comfortable finish in the league and cup final. And not only that, but also the way they have done it, employing a fast paced, possession keeping, pass-and-move style.
He had the foresight to bring in players that would slot into his system such as Tom Huddlestone whose career he has helped restore to the level we knew he could reach after an injury ridden last few years with Tottenham Hotspur.
In his early days of management, Bruce was accused of being disloyal, but looking back, it showed that he was a man of principles who was strong enough to resist staying in a job for the sake of having one.
With the finances and stability that The Tigers appear to have they could really kick on by establishing themselves as a Premier League club and eventually break into the top seven and the European places.
Other clubs, especially his beloved Newcastle, should be taking notice as, despite Hull being in a good position, it would be interesting for neutrals and Bruce himself to see what he could do with a bigger club. After 16 years of riding on the managerial rollercoaster, he deserves it.
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