As a player Steve Bruce made the most of the talent he had. Early in his career few would have pegged him as a player who would captain Manchester United and lead them to trophies.
There was nothing flashy about Bruce the player – it was pretty much a case of what you saw was what you got.
Strong, resolute and brave and what he lacked he more than made up for with a tremendous never-say-die approach. His ability to score goals was an added bonus and his ability on the ball was under appreciated by many.
With Gary Pallister as the other centre back the two combined to create an extremely effective central defensive partnership that set the stage for what was the become the Manchester United partnership of the last two decades.
His final seasons exclusively as a player were spent with Birmingham City but they were not the best of times. His playing time diminished as injuries took a toll on a body that had played through pain too may times.
Considering his qualities as a player and a leader Steve Bruce was always likely to make the move into management and he was appointed as player-manager of Sheffield United in 1998.
Then followed in the next three years appointments at five different teams and when you consider that he was only fired by one (Huddersfield Town) it is perhaps understandable that Bruce gained a reputation as a mercenary manager ready to resign whenever a bigger club came calling.
His record of only two moves in the last decade should have paid to the label but it is something that the media continue to pin on him.
Perhaps more importantly is the fact that after 12 years as a coach we are still not quite sure of how good – or otherwise – Bruce is as a team manager.
His last three jobs have been with team in the Premier League – although in the case of Birmingham City he did have two spells in what is now the Championship. In each case there have been times when it looked as if Bruce had the golden touch and others when you wondered how he managed to keep his job.
He took Birmingham up to the Premier League for the 2002/03 and against the odds Birmingham stayed up. A couple of astute signings include Christophe Dugarry helped save the club from relegation and they finished in a very respectable lower-mid-table position.
More progress was made initially the following season, before Birmingham’s performances deteriorated. By the end of 2006 Birmingham was relegated and there followed a see-saw year in the Championship before promotion was secured.
With a change in ownership pending Bruce’s contract situation became very murky and when Wigan came calling he jumped ship in late 2007. When Bruce arrived Wigan was a relegation favourite but again he pulled his team out of relegation.
A few more intelligent pieces of business during the summer months and Wigan went on to finish 11th at the end of the 2008-09 season. With his reputation at an all time high Bruce left to join Sunderland in May 2009.
In the one a bit seasons at Sunderland the feast or famine existence of Bruce the manager is clearly a factor again. Last season a dreadful run of 14 games without a win but the club survived that spell and finished with 44 points – good for 13th spot in the table and 14 points above the relegation zone.
Bruce was given money during his two summers in charge and again he made some purchases that on face value were excellent investments – particularly when dipping into the foreign market as he had done very successfully at Birmingham and Wigan.
The Sunderland squad looked deeper and with a greater number of options than previously had been the case. A solid home record – as in 2009/10 – provided a solid launching pad for 2010/11 for the first half of the season it looked as if Bruce had cracked it and had made Sunderland a legitimate contender for a top six spot.
But as before, the famine looks to be following the feast. After twenty-two weeks in a narrow range of 6th to 8th Sunderland has now sunk to 12th having taken only one point from the last seven games in the Barclay’s Premier League.
It may only be Sunderland’s fourth week spent in the bottom half of the table but nonetheless the fall has been dramatic with their last win coming back on January 22. The gap between Sunderland and the last relegation spot has narrowed from 15 points just eight games ago to just six.
With so many teams being sucked into a relegation fight six points is still a relatively healthy advantage with seven games left. Nonetheless the schedule is a case of good news and bad news for the Black Cats.
Six or Sunderland’s remaining matches are against teams presently below them in the table – the other is against Bolton who have two more points.
A couple of good results against the relegation candidates and Sunderland will be able to easily dismiss any doubts that might exist about their continued tenure in the Premier League. (The first is against West Brom at the Stadium of Light this weekend).
However, the one thing it will not resolve is our view of Steve Bruce as a manager. Unlike his time as a player when he was known for his consistency his time as a manager as been the exact opposite.
Successful spells have had him tagged as the best English born managers in the Premier League while runs like the present have most wondering if he can hold on to his job. Whither Steve Bruce the manager?
Steve Bruce’s most important contribution as a Manchester United player?
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