Steve Bruce: why change shouldn’t wait for Wolves and Blackburn

For most proper supporters of Sunderland, or indeed any other club, the commitment is unconditional. We may be scattered around the world, and the team/s we follow may experience varying fortunes, but we broadly want the same thing, week after week: success at whatever level we happen to be playing.

Younger Sunderland fans have known only the Premier League and upper end of the division below. The codgers have seen the old Third Division for one season and been close enough to another dose. Our allegiance has survived intact, and would do so again in the event of yet another relegation.

Years ago, Sir Tim Rice said in his celebrity supporter interview for the London & SE SAFC supporters’ newsletter, then called 5573, and later reproduced here, that while he had no Mackem roots, he could not imagine being a fan of Man Utd or Liverpool unless he had grown up in Manchester or on Merseyside.

So we are, despite Steve Bruce’s complaints about lofty expectations, a fairly realistic bunch. We do not truly see the top four as attainable in the short term or perhaps ever But when we see our club given healthy investment, we do feel entitled to regard the upper half of the Premier, high enough to challenge for a place in European competition, as a perfectly reasonable aspiration.

And the blunt truth, on which the club should now be prepared to steel itself to act, is that under Steve Bruce, we have shown little sign of realising that modest goal.

Forget the cauldron of negativity. The greater criticism of Salut! Sunderland earlier in the season was that it – or, let us be honest, two of its main writers – had failed to see sense. Please do not ask for an apology: I felt a 10th top finish last May, slightly fortunate as it may have been after a dismal second half of the season, was a creditable achievement. Bruce had earned the chance to move forward with his own team.

When he complained about “hysteria” after the disappointing start to this season, I instinctively sided with him. As the disappointments piled up, I urged a sense of proportion and, with a relatively undemanding run of games ahead, a little patience. Even when I found myself being ushered towards a perch on the fence in the Bruce In/Bruce out debate, I was determined to await the results he might achieve up to the end of November.

My hopes were, of course, forlorn. It was not so much that the fence suddenly collapsed beneath me in one heap, more than the panels and posts had been carried off one by one until nothing was left.

Media reports talk of Bruce still having one or two games to turn things around. But there is no longer any point in putting off the big decision until this winnable match away, or that one at home. Six points from Wolves (a) and Blackburn (h) will not construct a new fence for me, let alone sweep me back to other, Bruce In side.

Two wins and five draws from 13 games, plus an ignoble exit from the Carling Cup, would be bad enough in any circumstances. We cannot even claim to have had the most challenging of starts. Wins in the next two games would merely paper over cracks.

Bruce may have been unlucky. I have speculated in the past that Niall Quinn and/or Ellis Short may have forced his hand on key decisions, the unbelievably foolish sale of Darren Bent without replacement, the acquiescence to Gyan’s money-driven folly (again without replacement) and the failure to inject wage-costly creativity into midfield.

But he can only be judged on results. They have been abysmal for the best part of a year and no sustained improvement seems likely with the gaps in our present squad and his own glaring shortcomings as a motivator and reader of games.

Look at your own lives. Whether you are studying or in employment, would you have survived the equivalent of Bruce’s record as manager of Sunderland AFC since New Year’s Day?

I insist on a replacement being ready or nearly ready to take over, and in there being demonstrable evidence that his appointment represents real progress. I also expect him to have resources to plug those gaps we know exist.

But with the deepest of regret, since I consider Steve Bruce to be a decent man who has done his best to succeed at the Stadium of Light, change is no longer optional but a necessity.

Colin Randall

41 thoughts on “Steve Bruce: why change shouldn’t wait for Wolves and Blackburn”

  1. if you hang on a bit and wait for AVB to get fired and then swoop in for him. We know Mark Hughes will go to Wales to manage them. However I never rated that arrogant twat anyway. A bit like McCarthy, always right and the fans always wrong. Anyway good luck on finding a good new manager. Cant be any worse than Bruce at least ๐Ÿ™‚ See you sunday. 3-0 Wolves ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. What about Nigel Clough?..young spirited up and coming manager. What about Souness? will he go to wearside. McDermott? – he was unfairly sacked by reading and got them in the play off finals. Another good manager IMO. Anyway would love you lot to beat us Sunday but only if they get rid of Prick McCarthy who thinks Wolves should play in green and white with a big shamrock on the shirt. McCarthy, like Bruce, are way out of their league in this league. Championship they are great but no good in the prem. Tactics are all wrong. Anyway if they keep Prick McCarthy and baby girraffe Johnson at Wolves who can turn as quick as a wagon & horses, we are in big trouble. Wolves fan JK about Wolves losing hope we stuff you mackems 3-0 at home sunday but I would like to see the back of McCarthy and Moxey..pair of twats.

  3. Could I throw Solskaer into the possible managerial mix. I am sure there will be few people who agree with me, but he was an excellent player, who is proving to be a very impressive manager. He is articulate, intelligent and very knowledgable. He is young, but if we are looking for driving ambition he could be the man. A bit left field perhaps , but sometimes….

  4. LET Wolves score first? My fear is that we won’t be given any choice in the matter!
    As for lack of caution, exercising patience and taking our time, as Jeremy points out here – and as has been pointed out any number of times elsewhere – it’s been seven or eight months now. How much time is needed? How patient are we supposed to be? As for caution, Bruce exercises that every time he picks a side and puts it on the field and we’ve seen where that leads. Nowhere good.

  5. We have funny ideas regarding managers being able to jump straight into Premier League management. There’s not enough emphasis in this country on building up a career. I don’t know if it’s a lack of patience or what, but I sometimes wonder if the reason we have so many managerial changes, is that so many managers are not ready for this league. Very few of the British Prem managers built up a career from League One or Two. Some came up from the Championship, but most came straight into the Prem. And when they’re sacked, they do a bit of telly work for a few months before finding a vacant Prem spot.

    Whenever there’s a sacking, it’s always the same names over and over again: McClaren, Curbishley, even Pardew for a while. Maybe they don’t want the pay cut, but it’s amazing that they never find a L1 or L2 or even BSB Premier side to manage and take up through the ranks, instead of working in the Prem for eighteen months (the average reign of a manager these days), getting sacked then coming back with a new team the following season.

    We also have this prejudice that an excellent footballer will always make an excellent manager. Some will, naturally. You can see the likes of Ryan Giggs or Jamie Carragher in management, joining Brian Clough. But some of the best managers we’ve had in recent years were not great players: Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger.

    I remember when Shearer was appointed at Newcastle, and they really believed he could turn that ship around. It pains a bit to say, but he was one of this country’s best players, and he still holds the record of PL goals (or so MotD keeps telling me– like anyone tuning into that programme couldn’t identify Alan Shearer FFS). And everyone assumed he would be a competent manager. He wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t all down to him, there wasn’t much anyone could have done (ironically barring Big Sam) to keep them up that season.

    I think Pete is correct here in exercising caution. If a change is to be made, I want the club to take its time and make the correct decision. I don’t want to see another era defined by caretaker after caretaker; consistency leads to success. We’re a team that needs a manager, I do not believe that any warm body will do.

    Chelsea, in the seasons after Mourinho left, were able to effectively manage themselves. I have nothing personal against Avram Grant, but his leading them to the Champion’s League final was not really down to his managerial brilliance. They were a well-organised squad who, I’m certain, took their marching orders from the cabal of Terry, Lampard and Ballack.

    I think we have a squad with excellent fighting spirit (maybe we should let Wolves score first; we seem to do our best with backs against the wall) but one that is perhaps lacking an on-pitch leader . In Catts we have someone ferocious, who’d kill (possibly literally) for the team, but he’s not an effective organiser. I’d love to see Brown assume a stronger role in that respect, but maybe he’s just not that sort of person. Ditto JOS. I think we’re missing Zenden this season– he’d know what to do.

  6. Can u please please take Mick McCarthy back I can’t watch this crap anymore.think we’ve both got 2 managers out of there depth.still think wolves will beat ur boys Sunday tho.WTID

  7. It’s not as if we have had a bad start to the season or lost three games, and we are seeing a knee jerk reaction. He should have in May at the latest. Here we are 7/8 months later. He has gone from bad to worse. If Short and Quinn are sitting there thing “Durgh! What do we do now?” then they are not the men we think they are and shouldn’t be running a football club. It takes a phone call to the man they want. “Are you interested?” If the answer is yes, then the rest are contractual details and nothing more. They aren’t picking a Pope, or electing the leader of a political party. They are just appointing a bloke who can tell a footballer from a bricklayer and get a team playing together. It’s not astrophysics. It isn’t dependent on a complex set of chemical reactions. It’s a bloke who gets paid a shit load of money to organise a team. This one we have right now couldn’t organise a raffle. He’s isn’t just bad at what he does, he’s defiant. offensive to the supporters and has become an increasing embarrassment. It almost doesn’t matter who takes over for they could do no worse. A worse record than Terry Butcher.

  8. Simply sacking the manager with no replacement lined up is sheer folly. It happened when Reid went and when Keane went. I think that Bruce can (note, can, not will!!!) retrieve things this season. Not a popular thing to say here at the moment. I have my tin hat at the ready.

  9. So if we win or maybe even win one and draw one from the next two games we are stuck with him. The lesser of two evils would be for us to get slaughtered at Wolves and that will put an end to this fiasco. There’s really no justification to carrying on like this, unless Shorty is just going with what Quinn is possibly telling him, against his better judgement. It’s valuable time that’s being lost here every day. I’ve lost a lot of faith in Quinn recently and if he is the one that is keeping Bruce where he is then I will have lost faith altogether. I do remember Quinny’s comments when Reid left when he said that the two worst days he ever had in football were when Reid left Man City and then when he left Sunderland. Loyalty is one thing but blind faith and stupidity is a different commodity.

  10. Boyhood allegiance is a completely different thing to playing for them, and for me Bruce’s place of birth is red herring because the real problem is that he’s no bloody use.

    As for panic; well panic is the last thing he should be talking about given the garbage we’ve been watching for the last 10-11 months. He could have lined the ghost of Brian Clough up by now if he had his wits about him. At this point Short is looking even more clueless than the manager and that’s saying something.

    Levein did well at Dundee Utd. We’ll bake him a cake should we? Big deal

    Terry Butcher has just become inducted (as the first Englishman) into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. I rest my case. Even Bruce could manage up there. Who was the last Scotsman to come down to England and make a real success of managerment? It’s been a long time.

  11. The owner has vowed not to panic. If he sacks him without a replacement, lord only knows what will happen. Whatever we think about Bruce, he has not “lost the dressing room”. Players are not queueing up to whisper about splits and factions.
    I am no Bruce fan. He has disappointed me this season and I expect him to be replaced in the summer. But to sack him and appoint someone who happens to be “available” IS poor management.
    Levein found it difficult at Leicester, but he worked well at Dundee United and is beginning to turn Scotland round. He is a coach and a man who has ideas. Bruce isn’t. Eric Black has been a big disappointment for me. He is supposed to be the ideas man.
    Anyway, he won’t be gone by Sunday and it could be an interesting afternoon what with Wolves fans getting fed up of McCarthy. I think we can win on Sunday and move forward – but I ought to repeat that I am not a Bruce fan I am a Sunderland supporter.
    I can’t believe that Chris Hughton would even be considered for the job after the furore about Bruce’s boyhood allegiance. Hughton worked for Newcastle.

  12. It’s rather depressing to read PS’s comments in that regard ifos. The problem with this situation is that it has been allowed to continue to the point where the ridiculous figure that Bruce has become has been permitted to become “normalised” to the point where it’s acceptable to some people. A sort of becoming ‘institutionalised’ if you will. I’m not one of them ifos. He’s sh*t and should have been gone months ago.

  13. Did I really read Sixsmith say that we may win the next 2 games, things will click and confidence will grow? Will beating Wolves and Blackburn really mean Bruce deserves to stay?! So we win those 2 games and lose the next 4? Where does that leave us? The whole idea of giving a manger a certain amount of games to prove he can do a job, when the previous 11 MONTHS tell everyone the opposite is simply ridiculous to me. Surely you should be looking at the weight of evidence, not a snapshot against 2 weak teams. It suggests a weakness of management at the top that I find worrying! Just make a decision!

  14. Wallett. I’d swap you our own Mrs Doubtfire for Mick any day. Some of your faith may be restored in Mick when you take the points from us on Saturday. You don’t need much to beat us mate. Not very much at all. I’ve always liked Mick and a lot of our fans are still very fond of him from his time with us. He didn’t have a lot of money to spend but I would take Mick back if he was available.

    Bruce is terrible mind.

  15. As a Wolves fan is there any chance you can take McCarthy back because he has more than served his time here. Oh we don’t want Bruce either they are both clueless managers. I think 3 points to us or 3 points to you on Sunday. One of these two managers will have to go. Never mind Steve Keane. We also have Manchester Utd next week so if we lose to your lot then Mick will see the whole stadium turn on him.

  16. Chat noir. It’s clear that RDM isn’t settled at Chelsea despite his relatively recent return. Not sure why that is the case.

    He did well at MK Dons and was doing pretty well at WBA before they got nervous and appointed “Woy”

    It is academic at the moment but everyone knows it’s unlikely to remain that way for long.

  17. The Echo reported tonight that the club believed we’d win the last 2 home games and all would be ok, but because of results they’ve brought forward a progress review (that was planned for december!) to this week. Are they really that naive?

  18. Are we in a feasible position to tempt a manager away from a club though?

    Hughton has a job (and he’s managing in Europe lest we forget). Adkins, Lambert and Poyet are all enjoying purple patches at their respective clubs. Okay it’s the Premier League which undoubtedly means a higher salary for Adkins and Poyet, but would it be worth it?

    Lambert, for one, has led Norwich to back to back promotions, and they appear to be doing well in the Premier League now. Although conventional wisdom tells us that January is when the promoted sides do tend to run out of steam (just look at the trajectory of Blackpool’s 10/11 season). Norwich have, at present, a better record than Sunderland. Lambert is a god in that part of the world; I just don’t see him leaving the Canaries any time soon.

    And Adkins appears to be building something special at Southampton. Why give up the glory of taking the team into the Premiership (it’s too early to say, but they’re certainly favourites) to take up the reigns at a club in transition like us?

    I follow Scotland quite closely, and Levein is making huge strides there; he’s come a long way since being mocked for the 4-6-0. If he were allowed to manage Sunderland and Scotland simultaneously (something Real Madrid did not allow Mourinho to do with Portugal last season– the SFA may have similar reservations), he might be a viable contender. Otherwise, I’d have to imagine he’ll want to see if he can take Scotland to the World Cup. And managing an international side is more work than just taking over the team a few times a year; Capello, for example, is always taking in matches (when they’re in London or Manchester) and Levein is the same. Granted he could be doing some scouting whilst managing in the league (by virtue of, you know, paying attention) but he’d be missing out on a number of young Scottish players who are coming up through the SPL.

    Funny that Di Matteo should be mentioned, though. In The Times today there was an article that noted he’d signed a one-year rolling contract at Chelsea, and would be ‘considering his position’ in the summer. His agent confimed interest from several Italian clubs, as well as one Premier League club (no names, of course). But RDM says he’ll honour his Chelsea contract. Maybe Mr Short really, really, really wants RDM, and is waiting for the summer.

    But let us remember, this is all academic right now.

  19. It’s a difficult one this, as a Boro fan I’ve seen my fair share of inept managers and I don’t know if Steve Bruce is really up there with them. I may be wrong as I’m not watching Sunderland, but from what I see, I feel he has been well and truly shafted by the powers that be.

  20. We could do a hell of a lot worse Bill. He worked wonders with nothing for that lot up the road. When they first appointed him, I thought it was a joke. He was there on the spot and got the job, developing a respect not only from the unwashed but also amongst our fans, not only for displaying dignity in the most difficult circumstances but for achieving good results and building a team that was winning games, against the odds.

    I didn’t hear your trumpet btw Bill.

  21. Not to blow my own trumpet (who, ME?), Jeremy, but I mentioned Hughton here weeks and weeks ago when I was still getting a lot of stick for saying I was in danger of losing interest. He performed very creditably for the Mags. As I said back then, we could do a lot worse.

  22. I agree about his integrity, Jeremy. He is an honourable man and showed enormous dignity in the last days NUFC. He did great things with some of the more ‘difficult’ players there and laid the foundations for Pardew’s success. The Birmingham fans are ecstatic about him and it may be difficult to prize him away.

  23. Hughton is a man with integrity who showed that in some style when he was working for them. As you say, a good man manager too. He wouldn’t be a bad choice as a successor to Bruce who despite the Sixer’s bizarre claim that he is not a bad manager, now has a worse record than Terry Butcher.

  24. Just seen you reference to Chris Hughton, Jeremy. It has crossed my mind. He is proving his worth at Birmingham and is someone who commands respect on many levels, but particularly in his man-management skills..

  25. I agree Bill, Bruce is a bad manager, or at least a very poor manager.

    I saw the Guardian reference to McClaren and winced-surely not?

    The implication seemed to be that Bruce still has Quinn’s support and that might be the critical factor in Short’s decision. Much time though I have for Niall Quinn, I really think on this one that his heart is ruling his head. Short needs to act decisively. He may be a very successful businessman, but the combination of reclusiveness and a lack of long term familiarity with game are perhaps not the best combination in this context.

  26. There’s one name that has not been mentioned and for me would be a credible contender despite recent appointments. Chris Hughton.

  27. Bruce isn’t a bad manager Pete? When I read that I thought “Oh dear he’s been at the cooking sherry.” Confirmed when I saw Levein in your otherswise well considered list. He was a disaster at Leicester. Didn’t he take them down to third tier, or was largely responsible anyway.

    I’d have included Nigel Pearson in the list had he not gone back to Leicester recently.

    Right now I would be looking at Di Matteo if I was Short.

  28. I think Bruce IS a bad manager. The combination hasn’t clicked for months now. I can’t see two wins in a row bringing back any real confidence. The players will still be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  29. If he loses either of the next two games he will go. If he wins them, the players, who are sadly lacking in confidence at the moment, may well pick up and move us forward. They are not bad players and he is not a bad manager, but the combination is not clicking at the moment. He has Gardner and Vaughan playing for the Reserves this afternoon, so presumably they will start at Molineux.
    Change is inevitable sooner or later, but if we can get the season going, Bruce has until May. However, I cannot see him being here in August, which gives the club time to find a young, dynamic manager and not the O’Neill’s and McClarens of this world. Adkins, Lambert, Rogers, Poyet, Levein are the kind of names we should be looking at.

  30. The owner seems to be looking for any excuse not to sack him. Another two games is going to turn things round and plug the holes in the sinking ship is it? I really don’t think so and neither does anyone else apart from Short, with whom the fans are also going to lose patience if he doesn’t get rid of him. Two draws against Wolves and Blackburn and we could be stuck with him for eternity!

    He should have been gone on Saturday night and it’s incredible to think that he is still hanging on. Ellis Short needs to have a stiff word with himself and show him out and now.

  31. Impossible to know what goes on behind closed doors at the SoL of course, but judging by Mr Short’s programme notes this weekend, it seemed that he wasn’t quite ready to begin the search for a new manager.

    Post-Wigan, however, I’d imagine that discussions would be taking place this week between Short, Quinn and the rest of the board.

    You don’t get to be a billionaire by making hasty decisions. I’m willing to bet that there will not be an announcement on Bruce until a new candidate has been secured (should they wish to relieve him of his duties, that is).

    We have a committed and thoughtful group of people in charge of our club. I’m sure that whatever decisions they take over the coming few weeks will not be taken lightly.

  32. The Telegraph and Guardian are reporting that Bruce will sit down with Short and Quinn later this week to discuss his future, or lack thereof. Both papers have Hughes, O’Neil and McLaren (who apparently lives locally) in the frame as a possible replacement but say it’s Quinn who wants to give SB another couple of games.
    The Guardian reports this exchange after the Wigan debacle:
    “Short, a billionaire American financier, is famously reclusive but one Sunderland supporter approached the owner as he departed the stadium on Saturday and said: ‘Ellis we’re not happy.’ Barely breaking stride, Short replied: ‘And do you think I am?’ “

  33. Steve Bruce seems like a decent man and personally i think he has built a decent squad however you got it in one paragraph – the unbelievably foolish sale of Darren Bent without replacement, the acquiescence to Gyanโ€™s money-driven folly (again without replacement) and the failure to inject wage-costly creativity into midfield.

    Brighton in the cup – Bruce blamed not taking our chances but how can we take them with NO strikers on the pitch? Wickham scoring goals for fun last year in the Championship and in need of game time is on the bench, same for Ji, etc…then when he brings them on he takes the service off – the man doesn’t know TACTICS.

    With the fans turning against him, 89% out of over 5000 sayinghe should go – must be before Wolves or thats another wasted game as i can’t see us winning (snap for the Blackburn game with him there). We really need a box striker – why not play Noble? We need to score against Fulham and we are battering them so he gives Noble 4 mins to score – COME ON BRUCE, TIME IS UP

    Only one replacement in my eyes – Boyhood Sunderland fan and will have the club in his heart and want the best for us…


  34. Steve Bruce is without doubt a decent honest man and certainly does not deserve personal abuse. I think he has been very unlucky at Sunderland and sometimes you have to bite the bullet acknowledge you gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out. I hope he is not holding on for fininiacal reasons.When your team keeps loosing the manager must find a method and solution to the problem.You can’t blame supporters, where you come from and hard work alone does not win football matches.The balance of the team, tactics,signings,team spirit,leadership etc.All blatantly obvious I know but if a ordinary average Joe like me can see it, surely the club should and must do something pragmatic now to save our season.

  35. I trust you enjoyed your time in Bali – Nusa Dua?

    Good to see that you are back and “in tune”.

    When Bruce was appointed everyone seemed to be calling for a “steady pair of hands” who could guarantee us a mid table position.

    Some, with his departure seeming only a matter of time, are now calling, again, for the same.

    In my view this was/is a BIG mistake!


    When recruiting any member of staff (and I have many, many years experience of this, both for my own businesses and for Multinational Corporations who paid for my judgement) it , normally, pans out that what you expect is the best that you will get!

    This does not mean that there will not be an, occasional, diamond (PR, for example got lucky with KP) but that, in general, your expectations will be the maximum of what you will experience.

    The same can be said for aiming higher BUT (in our situation) I would rather aim to break into the Champion’s League and then end up in the Europa than aim for mid table and then have an ongoing relegation battle.

    I just worry that ES will not even attempt to be that ambitious, because of the people who will get in his ear and mirror SB’s comments about our expectations, instead of looking at what IS possible.

    If he goes down that route then we will end up in the same situation every 2 or 3 years.

    Only time will tell though, maybe, he will surprise us all.

  36. “A decent man who did his best” is a fine epitaph but the same could be chiseled on the tombstones of all those inept World War I generals who sent hundreds of thousands of men to their deaths. An extreme analogy, I know, but you get my point.
    As for the “cauldron of negativity,” I prefer to think of it as a cauldron of realism. There hasn’t been cause for optimism for some months now. Some of us realized that earlier than others and called it as we saw it. There was no pleasure in doing so but no point in doing otherwise.

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