Many British managers complain that they’d be more lauded if they hailed from Spain or Italy. Some have justification while others are kidding themselves.
Steve Bruce falls into the former category. He has long been established as a Premier League manager and aside from his spell at Huddersfield, can be considered a success at every club he’s been in charge of.
Yet Bruce remains typecast as a lower-level manager. The type of person you turn to if you’re looking towards promotion to the Premier League, or want to save your club from relegation.
No club has ever called upon him to lead them into Europe or compete for trophies. The closest that Bruce has got to a big club is Sunderland, though as they finished 16th the season before Bruce was appointed in 2009, they were not in a situation where Bruce could seriously strive for success.
He did at least have money at Sunderland and generally spent it well. Darren Bent was recruited for £10m and finished as the Premier League’s top scorer with 24 goals. The following season Bent was joined by Asamoah Gyan for £13m, who proved himself to be a good player if not a reliable character. The likes of Lee Cattermole, Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon were also signed by Bruce.
Sunderland finished 13th in Bruce’s first season and 10th in his second. He was sacked early on in the 2011-12 season after a poor run of results, having seen both Bent and Gyan leave the club.
In the context of the managers that have followed him it is now obvious that Bruce did a decent job and deserved more time. Steady mid-table progress is after all preferable to an annual relegation battle.
Having been sacked by Sunderland, Bruce’s phone was not ringing off the hook with job offers from Premier League clubs. He could have very easily been precious about the level of job that he was willing to take and end up in the wilderness like Alan Curbishley, but instead Bruce rolled up his sleeves and dropped down to the Championship to take over at Hull.
It was to prove an inspired move and has enabled Bruce to resurrect his reputation. Hull were promoted in Bruce’s first season as his 3-5-2 formation bamboozled their opponents.
They have adapted to the Premier League in a style that you might expect when they have such an experienced manager in charge, but Hull’s performance this season has still been surprising.
Fellow promoted sides Cardiff and Crystal Palace have found themselves in the bottom three for much of the season. Hull have so far avoided the relegation scrap. This is in large part to Bruce’s canny work in the transfer market.
Allan McGregor, Maynor Figueroa and Tom Huddlestone were signed in the summer on the cheap, while Huddlestone’s Spurs colleague Jake Livermore joined him on a loan deal. The big question mark over Hull’s squad during the first half of the season was the lack of goalscoring threat but this was addressed in January with the signings of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long.
Premier League survival has always been the main aim for Hull this season but they now also find themselves on the threshold of winning a trophy. Hull have drawn League One’s Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final and are the huge favourites to proceed to Wembley, with Betfair offering just 1.2 that Bruce’s side will reach the final.
It’s likely that Hull will find Arsenal waiting for them and all the pressure will be on Arsene Wenger to end his trophy drought, leaving Bruce’s reputation intact whether Hull win or lose. Just reaching the final would be a huge achievement on his part.
Would winning the FA Cup be enough to finally land Bruce with a major job? It might seem unlikely but then remember that Roberto Martinez was given the Everton job in the summer having guided Wigan to the cup, even though he also got them relegated – something that Bruce managed to avoid during his spell at the club.
A better example might be Harry Redknapp, who tasted a Champions League run at Spurs having won the FA Cup at Portsmouth, or Roy Hodgson, whose Europa League run at Fulham and success at West Brom led to opportunities with Liverpool and England.
With so few English coaches working at the top level it might be that the national team one day gives Bruce the opportunity that they failed to when he was a player. No one could say that Bruce hasn’t put in the ground work.