Bruce's Self Defence Only Damns Himself

Ian MacNicol

With Sunderland encountering Steve Bruce again this weekend, we felt it best to remind him (again) that things weren't quite as rosy as he remembers, and that his protestations only highlight that fact...

There appears to be signs of some closure in the last couple of weeks. Fans and players will feel relieved no end with that first win of the season on Sunday, that goes without saying really. Whether there can be a definitive sense of closure in our emotions somewhere because of it, I'm not entirely sure. It certainly feels like something stronger than satisfaction.

There also seems to be a little closure on the old Steve Bruce debate too, certainly from his part - initially playing down the relevance of Sunderland as his opponents this weekend. He's since came out and dismissed us as a mistake, perhaps an attempt to slam shut the book he's narrated so loudly over the last couple of years. I wouldn't bank on it though, and I'd dare say this will be the biggest job he's had or is ever likely to get.

Now I realise that Gareth Barker made a joke on this week's pod that we're "out Steve Brucing" Steve Bruce by proceeding with elaborate discussions about an ex-manager, particularly when we're onto our third one since. But that's kind of the point in some people's eyes. Believe me, I very much hope this is my closure on the matter.

But especially prior to the Newcastle game on Sunday, I had more and more people are starting to tell me how this almighty mess has helped them conclude that things were actually quite good under Steve Bruce. More and more are questioning whether we made a mistake. Seriously, I've heard it about ten times in the last two weeks. The Hull Daily Mail have even ran with headlines suggesting we must be kicking ourselves for allowing this newly appreciated genius to slip between our needy fingers. Now, I must confess, I long for those days to return also. Oh for a stable, if unspectacular, side who win the home games they should first and foremost and averagely tick away to their hearts content, swivelling in midtable mediocrity. Ah those were the days.

And credit where it's due, Bruce took a lightweight Roy Keane side and toughened it up. He added quality to the spine and kicked us on that little bit more. The sad truth is that he's actually one of the better English managers around, he's able to build a team and manage them effectively. I'll accept that. I long for that now. Hell, scrap the biggest job claim - he may end up as England manager such is the ineptitude of top level English coaching. But back in the "here and now" his shelf-life was up. It quite simply was.

But this bloody Steve Bruce Hard Luck Story has never actually left us.

In previous months we've witnessed this huge Steve Bruce self-naratage that has been direct, patronising and insulting. But even before this latest attempt to close the book firmly shut, he was still lamenting in any which way he could. This is never going to go away.

His recent remarks about Di Canio's methods being outdated were very cute. His suggestions that having tactical nous is something that almost pales into significance when comparing it to being able to man manage strikes a chord with many. But that was the idea. This was as subtle and dissembling as Bruce has been throughout, the usual direct manner of his hard luck story is amputated; the blame game seemingly absent. Yet, make no mistake, this was an attempted middle finger at Short, the club and the fans. It was a huge "REMEMBER ME? WELL TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOW".

Yet no matter how intelligent he thinks he's being, all he manages to do is highlight and expose his limitations that brought his fate upon him at The Stadium of Light. Man-management isn't more relevant than coaching. It may be need to more Bruce-esque than Di Canio-esque, but to suggest that finding a way to get the best out of a player trumps having a tactical plan or having the ability to coach them is laughable.

This is where being a true student of the game is what becomes required. Setting up a side and leaving the rest to improvisation won't prevail forever and once a group of players become flat then these manager types are in trouble. Bruce sat on the Goals on Sunday sofa and admitted to Chris Kamara that "you try absolutely everything when things aren't going well" and never before has a self-statement been more reflective of a manager's time at Sunderland. His self-defence is self-damning. He was fresh out of ideas and hadn't surrounded himself with staff that could offer him any insight or adaption. There was never a window into the modern world. There was no plan.

The Black Cats are still suffering for Bruce's miscalculation of allowing Henderson, Malbranque and Zenden to leave without replacing them sufficiently. People must not forget that Martin O'Neill needed form akin to that of a Champions League side to pull that side away from the relegation zone. We'd have went down without the change, no question.

Many argue he could have turned it round by replenishing things in January. Maybe. Two more top Bruce excuses lead me to conclude otherwise, however. The first and most obvious one was that his new side needed to gel. Aside from the fact we're still waiting for these key players to gel, that appears to suggest there was no change in central midfield on the horizon. Without that or the new manager bounce, we were down. Next up, the "a team is only as good as their forwards" line - a clear attempt to detach any blame to himself when it comes to the departures of Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and an inability to tie down Danny Welbeck. The flaw in that narrative is that £8 million was spent on Connor Wickham. Eight. Million. We're still waiting for him to gel with his team mates.

What's needed is a balance. Good head coaches need good people's people around them. Similarly, good managers need good coaches around them. I realise that we're 'just' Sunderland and expecting some sort of complete manager (or head coach) is wishful thinking, yet Gus says the right things at least. I also realise that new managers come in and instantly say the right things; it's hard not to when the previous regime got it so badly wrong. But if Bruce will try anything, and if Di Canio won't try anything, then what would you give for a manager to say something like "If we play against a side with a problem in central defence then we must take advantage and put pressure on that. If we play against a side with better defenders and weaknesses in other areas then we'll play with one striker maybe". That's Poyet's latest take on things. Hallelujah.

When I spoke to Gus in his first press conference he implied that he believed that the English over-thought the concept of a manager needing a Plan B. It could be he who is the dissembling and intelligent one.

Stop telling me that we made a mistake in dismissing Steve Bruce. Please, I don't wish to speak of this again.

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