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Farewell Brace; Paul Bracewell has left & his departure ends 34-yr association with Sunderland

Paul Bracewell has left Sunderland. With Derek McInnes and his assistant Tony Docherty set to be unveiled at the Stadium of Light, the 54-year-old has departed Wearside for one last time. We look back at his 34-year association with the club.

Darlington v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Paul Bracewell has left Sunderland.

Reports indicated yesterday that the Black Cats assistant boss was set to exit the Stadium of Light and north east reporter for the Sun, David Coverdale, has confirmed that to be the case this afternoon.

The imminent arrival of new manager Derek McInnes and his assistant Tony Docherty means the 54-year-old has departed the Stadium of Light after a 34-year-association with the club. Most likely for the final time.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League
Bracewell with Jack Rodwell on the pitch last season
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

As a player in three stints with Sunderland, Paul Bracewell made nearly 230 appearances for the club.

Returning in 2013 to oversee youth sides at the Academy of Light, the Merseyside-born coach took up first team duties when Dick Advocaat was appointed manager and remained on the Sunderland bench throughout the tenures of Sam Allardyce and David Moyes.

Paul Bracewell is a part of modern-day Sunderland history, but he's never been the most popular figure. His latter association with the club has admittedly been during a disappointing period on the pitch, but Black Cats supporters have never held Brace in the warmest of regards.

Paul Bracewell was a great footballer. But he never played his greatest football during his six years as a player at Sunderland - saving that for Everton and for Newcastle.

Brace read the game, he worked tirelessly and he could pick a pass; but most importantly, he could break up play and tackle and track back intuitively .

For a period he was one of the footballing faces of the 1980s. With his bowl haircut and '80s football panache, he was part of the blue half of a Merseyside city which for decade - between Liverpool and Everton - dominated English football.

The Bracewell bowl - mid-80s at Everton

Bracewell was only 21 when he first arrived on Wearside and initially only lasted one season. Alan Durban, who had brought him to Sunderland, was replaced by Len Ashurst, who served at the Tom Cowie-show that was SAFC and sold Brace to raise funds to rebuild his team.

Bracewell signed for Everton in a £425,000 deal in 1984 and the move contrasted sharply between the sleeping giant that was Sunderland and the reawakening one that would become the successful Goodison side of the 80's.

Bracewell at Roker Park

Whilst at Everton, Bracewell won the League title twice and the European Cup Winners Cup. The success of that team was built upon the midfield dynamism of Peter Reid, Kevin Sheedy, Trevor Steven and Paul Bracewell. In an era where the FA Cup was simply huge, Bracewell's career featured four finals, but he never won the treasured trophy.

His Goodison career was curtailed by a Billy Whitehurst shocker which ruined his ankle on New Years Day 1986. The injury prevented Bracewell from making the World Cup in Mexico that year.

Four operations on the ankle meant he did not get back to first team football until January 1988. His return to the Everton line-up saw fading first team showings, and he engineered a loan move back to Sunderland which was eventually made permanent.

Bracewell spent three years on Wearside in his second spell. His ankle was never fully recovered, but he slotted seamlessly into the Sunderland side.

His signing aided the club in reaching the Second Division Play-Off Final which resulted in promotion despite defeat thanks to Swindon’s financial shenanigans. Brace made the last of his losing FA Cup final appearances for Sunderland in 1992.

Bracewell at Wembley in 1992

When he left for Newcastle later in '92, few Sunderland fans really blamed him privately, despite the clear choice he made in crossing the divide.

Certainly some negative press followed him, but the lure of a three-year deal offered by Kevin Keegan was sufficient to entice Bracewell. For his part, the midfielder featured in some of the most exciting teams ever assembled at St James Park.

Paul Bracewell’s nigh on 600 senior appearances owe much to his career choices in jumping clubs at the right time to maintain first team football; and so it was that he accepted Peter Reid’s offer to re-join Sunderland in 1995 with a resulting promotion to the Premier League.

Reid always spoke highly of Bracewell and has regularly included him in lists of most influential figures during his time on Wearside.

Two-fifths of Brace’s career appearances featured under the red and white badge, and it is arguable that his contribution to the Sunderland cause is under-rated. Certainly he never won anything of note on Wearside, but that is true of every modern day Rokerman since the early 1970s.

An FA Cup Final appearance and two promotions to the top flight are comparable achievements to other ‘greats’ of that era such as Kevin Ball, Gary Bennett, Niall Quinn or Marco Gabbiadini. But, it does still stand that amongst fans, whilst highly thought of, Brace just doesn’t quite fit into that ‘legend’ category.

The Newcastle faux pas and the fact he ‘belongs’ to that great Everton team are the probable factors. He will always be remembered in the national footballing consciousness for his slot in the legendary midfield quartet of Steven, Reid, Sheedy and Bracewell, and for his role in the black and white Keegan dream. His single minded devotion to maximising his career probably lessens the impact he has made in the Sunderland psyche.

And so too his coaching spell since 2013. Cutting a miserable track-suited figure as defeat after defeat have sucked the life out of the club in recent seasons, Bracewell seemed to become the personification of the on-pitch issues which have befallen the Black Cats.

Sunderland v Aston Villa - Premier League
Bracewell on the bench
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

And so supporter derision has grown and blotted his three decade-plus association with Sunderland. There has clearly been something fundamentally wrong with the coaching set-up at the Stadium of Light so a change is no doubt welcome.

As for Bracewell's final chapter, a miserable relegation somehow seems apt to end the Wearside career of the man who has cut such a miserable figure on the bench.

However, we really should remember him as a fine player and a long servant to the club

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