Even before the season had begun, I had predicted that this would be the ‘make or break season for Steve Bruce’. Well now, Bruce becomes the first Premier League manager to leave his post just 4 months into the season. All the major football pundits would have started postulating their own theories on why Bruce has been sacked, and I thought I’ll just throw in my two-pence, afterall having already speculated this months back.
Bruce can feel that he has become a victim of his own success – him consistently over-achieving with smaller clubs causing his employers to expect the improbable of him. But I actually don’t think so. What Bruce achieved with Wigan and Birmingham before that was admirable but he had his limitations. In this article, I have tried to capture the main reasons why Bruce has been sacked from Sunderland.
1. Playing Football Manager in the transfer deals:
This is something which has irked me a lot about Steve Bruce. His transfer deals have always been a case of buy in the numbers and trust few of them would click. As I had pointed in my earlier piece, Bruce has brought in almost 30 players during his tenure at the Stadium of Light (either on permanent transfers or on loans) and has seen 36 leave. And all this in only a little over 2 seasons. Such a high degree of employee churn will never provide a ambient working environment anywhere in this world and Bruce’s intent on playing FM only created an atmosphere in which the players were not that greatly attached to the club. Darren Bent, Loric Cana, Kenwyne Jones and Jordan Henderson have all left without being adequately replaced. And the tradition of dealing in wholesale happened in Wigan also when Bruce was at the helm there.
2. Not having a settled strike partnership:
In the 2 and 1/2 seasons that Bruce managed Sunderland, they never managed to have a settled strike partnership – first it was Jones, Chopra and Benjani changing to Jones and Bent and Sunderland actually had a partnership that was gelling together well. Then Jones was sold to Stoke the following season after Bruce spent most of the pre-season complaining that Liverpool was tapping the striker up. Asamoah Gyan was bought last season and again Bent forged a good partnership with him and young Manchester United loanee Danny Welbeck was also learning his trade alongside them. But Bent left mid-season to join struggling Aston Villa and it was deja-vu time all over again as Bruce spent most of the pre-season this time around moaning that Tottenham were trying to poach Gyan. Gyan did indeed leave but to UAE club Al Ain. Sunderland might have benefited financially with all these deals, but Bruce ended up with not having a striker he could rely on for goals. This season, he failed to replace Gyan, Bent and Welbeck as Bendtner and Wickham have been willing, but not effective enough.
3. Not being able to arrest slumps:
Last season, Sunderland looked like they would break into the top-7 after their wonderful performance at Stamford Bridge, but their second half of the season could be described as only relegation form. The Black Cats lost 11 of the last 19 fixtures, collecting a paltry 20 points out of them. They went on a nine game winless streak and Bruce often looked like he didn’t have a clue. The season before that was the same with Sunderland collecting only 20 points from the second half of the season and that with Darren Bent in their ranks scoring 24 goals.
4. Happy to blame other clubs:
As mentioned below, Bruce was always happy to maintain that the failings of his players who were linked to other clubs were because of the other clubs. He was keen on pointing fingers at Manchester City, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Tottenham and Al Ain rather than focus on the fact that he had attracted quality players to his teams by promising them a platform from which they could showcase their skills and move on to other clubs for lucrative deals. Wilson Palacios, Charles N’Zogbia, Darren Bent and Gyan – all moved to Bruce’s teams on such promise only. They always viewed his team as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. If such a philosophy is used to bring in good players, then Bruce should have also made sure that similar quality replacements were lined up on the event of a player’s departure.
Bruce will not be written out – he will be back, should the likes of Wolves or Stoke or Villa feel like dispensing with their current managers. But Bruce will have to realize his failings in his previous clubs. He was lucky to have a patient bloke like Ellis Short in-charge of the club. The next time, he just might not get a boss such accommodating.