Latest sacking could be end of the road for Steve Bruce’s managerial career
Few managers reach as many milestones as Steve Bruce – but he may have now hit his last.
Bruce’s sacking by West Brom came with the Baggies sitting in the Championship’s relegation zone after a 0-0 draw with Luton Town extended their run of games with no wins to eight.
A 25 per cent win ratio at The Hawthorns points to the myriad problems experienced by Bruce at West Brom, who took over in February when the team were sixth in the Championship table.
At the age of 61, Bruce may now find himself on the managerial scrapheap – and for good.
End of the road?
Bruce has long been seen as a dinosaur figure by some football fans and sections of the media, but perhaps that perception of him is unfair. After all, earlier in his coaching career Bruce had a string of jobs where he over-achieved and left clubs in much better spots than when he took over. The brightest modern eras at Birmingham City and Hull City have been with Bruce.
It is easy to forget now, with the short-termism of critics and cynics alike, that Bruce has four promotions to the Premier League on his CV. He might not have been an appointment to get the pulses of West Brom supporters racing, but few have such a strong Championship track record.
Bruce has been a figure of fun within the game for some time, however. Arguably, the trashing of his reputation can be traced back to when an Aston Villa fan opted to throw a cabbage at him.
Villa’s poor run of form under Bruce led to his sacking and while he was able to rebuild his reputation somewhat in a short spell at Sheffield Wednesday, opting to take the reins at Newcastle United – something of a poisoned chalice in the Mike Ashley era – proved to be a poor decision, yet one that was understandable for someone with the north-east in his blood.
Newcastle fans never accepted Bruce, despite finishes of 13th and 12th in his first two seasons at the club keeping their heads above water as takeover talk constantly lapped around him.
That was partly as he was never going to match the popularity of predecessor Rafael Benitez, partly due to Bruce’s background at Sunderland, and partly the perception of him as dated.
Sunderland are another club where history can judge Bruce’s reign to have been a relative success. The Black Cats did not pull up any trees during his two and a half years in charge, but a 13th-placed finish in the Premier League is something that their supporters should look back on fondly given what has followed at the Stadium of Light over the course of the past decade.
Likewise, in his second spell – having earlier made the Second Division play-offs – Wigan finished 11th in the Premier League under Bruce – heights they are unlikely to hit again soon.
Same old complaints arise
As Newcastle’s progress under Bruce started to stall, familiar complaints duly began to arise.
There were regular leaks from the dressing room into the press, who reported various stories of players being given too much time off when more work was needed on the training ground.
In the wake of Bruce’s sacking by West Brom, similar stories have also emerged. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Bruce is a relatively hands-off manager, perhaps unsuited for the modern game where the smallest of details are able to make the difference during a match.
West Brom appeared to lack a defining style of play. When managers are now appointed for the way they play football as much as results, it is hard to put a finger on how Bruce teams play.
A lack of attention to detail is a constant complaint as well. Bruce readily admitted in the lead up to the 2022-23 season he was unaware of a change in regulations that meant Championship managers would now be able to make up to five substitutions during league matches.
Bruce’s prior record in the Championship remains admirable – though it is worth noting the most recent of his four Premier League promotions came six years ago – and there is a solid chance that a team with aspirations of reaching the top-flight could yet turn to the Englishman again.
Three sackings in four years is a damning record, though. Time may now be up for Bruce.