Jeff Stelling, Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas, Paul Merson and… Steve Bruce?!
Yes, this was a possibility at one point and it may surprise you (or not), to know that Steve Bruce didn’t hold strong aspirations to work in management.
If it weren’t for the challenge arising at Sheffield United towards the end of his playing time, then he may never have taken that step. He told Sky Sports recently, “At the time, I was either thinking of going into the media or coaching kids. I had soccer schools at the time and enjoyed that. But when management came along, I thought I had to have a crack, and Sheffield United gave me that opportunity.”
This was certainly one of the ‘sliding doors’ moments in Bruce’s life and I wonder, if it’s one that he regrets. In my mind, football management is one of those jobs where it needs to be your vocation to enjoy proper success.
If you look at people working in education and medicine, you know that the people who really have their heart in the job, tend to make the biggest differences. We probably all remember that teacher who seemed to shine that little bit brighter than others, who dedicated their lives to the betterment of their students, but we also know that teacher who was only in it for the holidays.
I look at certain football managers and I know that management is their passion and calling. Managers such as Klopp, Guardiola, Keegan, Benitez and Sir Bobby Robson ooze and oozed desire to be the best they could be. Jurgen Klopp describes himself as a “football romantic”, Benitez is consumed by football and you just need to hear Robson talk about the great game for two seconds to understand his love.
After months and months of watching the repetitive, passionless dirge stream from Bruce’s mouth, I felt compelled to watch, as I’m sure many of you did, a Sky Sports Retro video of Bobby Robson discussing a 1-1 draw with Arsenal. His defence of players, his tactical nous, his knowledge of the game and the passion that he exuded was extraordinary. He truly was a great man and though this video is a footnote in history, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Watching it filled my heart with adoration and reminded me of what Newcastle used to be (and should be), which also saddened me.
Steve Bruce isn’t someone who will ever reach the heights of the five people I’ve mentioned and I’m convinced that even if Bruce did have the ability, he would never have the hunger required to really excel. If you were to ask Bruce this then I’m certain he’d disagree, but he is someone who likes to rewrite history quite a lot and his past actions and quotes show how he wandered into becoming a permanent manager.
Everything Bruce speaks about with management is how “tough” things are, his disregard for tactics and his dependence on luck. Could you ever imagine Bruce speaking about a game like Bobby Robson did about that Arsenal one? I can’t.
Bruce’s recent reaction to our awful Arsenal loss a few weeks ago becomes even more pathetic when matched up to Robson’s reaction to a draw with the same team. Even in lighter moments, Bruce’s “how’s the bacon” faux pas doesn’t come close to matching the hilarious whimsy of Robson’s, “the margin is very marginal” and other classics.
Bruce’s actions after the Sheffield United job, again all point towards someone who fell into management despite his own internal will.
In 1999, before being convinced to manage Huddersfield Town by owner Barry Rubery, Bruce considered working for Sky Sports and he told The Athletic recently, “when that offer came in from Sky, I did think maybe that it was the best way to go. But then I got a phone call from Huddersfield to see if I was interested in becoming their new manager. I thought about it for a while and ended up saying, ‘Why not?’ Huddersfield were ambitious and seemed to be a club going places.”
That quote is hardly a ringing endorsement of why he took his second job in football management. After all, when you can boil down a reason for taking a job as “Why not?” then there are serious issues awaiting you!
This was another ‘sliding doors’ moment for Bruce, and his actions when in the job at Huddersfield, point to someone who regretted his choice. It was during this time that he wrote his infamous detective stories (if only he could use those detective skills to find a way for Shelvey to deliver a corner properly) and controversially decided to work for the BBC covering Manchester United’s World Club Cup campaign whilst his own team struggled for form.
These actions seem to point towards a person who was not committed or passionate about the career he had chosen. His third significant ‘sliding doors’ moment was after the Huddersfield job, where he took the time to consider his future and whether management was for him. He told Sky Sports, “That was the first time I questioned whether management was really for me.”
As I’ve already noted, Steve has a habit of rewriting history because this was definitely not the first time he questioned his career direction. If you’re someone who has deeply considered going in a different direction to your final career three times, then there is absolutely no way that you are doing it for love of the job.
Steve Bruce, in my mind, is a lost soul. He doesn’t know what he wants or, at the very least, doesn’t know how to get it. I believe that he enjoys football and I believe that he wants football to be part of his life in some way, but I don’t believe he really knows in what capacity. I don’t believe he enjoys management and, by his own admission, has a distaste for tactics. I’m not sure he enjoys discussing the nitty gritty of the sport either.
Perhaps Soccer Saturday would have been the best route for Bruce. He could sit there with friends, watching football and not having any real in-depth opinions on anything but enjoy himself being employed in the sport in the most basic way.
He certainly doesn’t have belief that he would make a top-level pundit as he was quoted in The Athletic saying, “who knows what sort of pundit I would have been? Probably no Gary Neville or Jamie Carragher, put it that way.” Doesn’t that tell you everything about his mindset? The generous amongst us would say that this is modesty but I think that this is an admittance of his lack of interest.
Playing-wise, he basically is Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. He was a hard-working defender and a leader for a top club, just like they were. He should have all the attributes to at least match them in the ability to analyse – but he doesn’t believe he can.
I would feel sorry for Steve, pity him perhaps, but I simply cannot when he continues to make a mockery of the club I love.
We deserve more, no matter what anyone says, and a chancer, who secretly wants to be the next Arthur Conan Doyle or Paul Merson, simply isn’t good enough. Jeff, please take him off our hands.