From the ‘cauldron of negativity’, generous breathing space for Steve Bruce

The swirl of events at the Stadium of Light came to light after this item was prepared. In some ways, it is a response to Jeremy Robson’s merciless attack on Steve Bruce published yesterday, except that it was mostly written before that. Some of the thoughts may be rendered out of date by further developments concerning the club, but for the sake of completeness – and because M Salut is off on some minor travels culminating in Niall’s old stamping ground of Sedgefield at the weekend – here is a piece that is not intended to outrage the Bruce Out camp but will do so in any case …

A friend who supports Chelsea recently asked here whether Steve Bruce really wrote to Salut! Sunderland after each match.

The reply was Yes, but only in the sense that I receive the same e-mail that is sent to all other season card holders on the manager’s behalf. I am sure a press officer writes the words down, but they do fairly reflect what he says on TV so we can take them as his genuine thoughts, and it is good to have them here.

It is highly unlikely that Bruce reads this site regularly. In fact it is more likely that he does not even know of its existence; our club, like all other corporate football entities, wishes to have as little to do as possible with fanzines or fan sites, so we can safely assume no one’s job entails passing on snippets from here to the manager’s office as a matter of course.

That is a pity since Steven would have loved, as I did, the phrase that cropped up in comments the other day.

Ian_safc wrote this: “This site has always been a cauldron of negativity …”

I was taken aback. True, Ian was commenting on a highly negative piece by Jeremy Robson entitled “Win or Lose to West Brom, Steve, your time’s up”.

But my reply suggested that while you could dip selectively into this site’s vast archive and produce 10 extracts to “prove” its negativity, the same exercise but looking for upbeat comment would probably double, treble or quadruple that tally.

It is rare for any posting at Salut! Sunderland to attract 45 comments, but that is the response, at the last count, to Jeremy’s rant. This is a literate and realistic environment as fan sites go, but Steve would have found little in the comments to cheer him.

And after we had neither won nor lost in the game against WBA, but fought back with character from an abysmal start to claim a draw, Bruce declared himself shocked by the criticism he had received over Sunderland’s poor start to the season.

After decades in the game. Bruce is almost certainly not a naive man, so so we must assume he is not really shocked at all, just a bit disappointed, to borrow a word he uses himself quite a lot.

Why the criticism? Played seven. Won one. Drawn three. Lost three. That is straightforward relegation form, leaving us just above the bottom three, and it is not as if we have had the most difficult of opening programmes, two promoted sides and four home games figuring among the seven fixtures.

The next three are tricky, but to many minds – putting to one side those that are already made up, not to mention the fevered speculation certain to follow the announcement that Niall Quinn is no longer our chairman – the future of our manager should rest on how we fare in them.

We start at the Emirates. What a mighty performance would be needed there to emulate last season’s result and snatch a point. Forget Arsenal’s own dismal start: we were lucky not to be beaten there last season and will need the same good fortune, or a display on the lines of Chelsea away last November, when we meet on Oct 16.

Bruce may still, as Pete Sixsmith has suggested here, have the rest of October to show he is at least on the right road. After Arsenal, that means Villa at home, Bolton away. What can we now truly expect from those three matches? Can we honestly see Sunderland coming out of it with seven points to match last season’s haul?

I wanted nine from the four games starting at Carrow Road. Eight seemed a reasonable second best, especially since that would have represented an unbeaten run. Two of those games have passed, yielding all of one point.

How I long for my own pessimism to prove unfounded and a really strong Sunderland performance in both halves of each of the coming three games, without ruinous defending or unforgivable indiscipline, could give us a decent tally. And my own reluctance to join the Bruce Out bandwagon too early, as many did, would be vindicated.

But my patience has been stretched too far for comfort. The Bent and Gyan transfer sagas, the pathetic win rate even at home and the scandalously meek cup exits have all taken their toll on my support for the boss.

Television appearances can be deceptive. But from what I’ve seen, I like Bruce. Provided he did the job for us, I frankly wouldn’t care a hoot who he supported as a lad and maybe supports still. I give him credit for last season’s 10th top position. He was fortunate in terms of how the final results went, but how many would have put it down to sheer bad luck, not to be blamed on him, had results gone slightly differently and left us 13th?

But if, on the evening of Oct 29, we have a record that reads P10 W1 D4 L5 or similar, it will undoubtedly seem to many that there is no further justification for giving Bruce’s team time to “gel”. People will say we are at the outer limits of the timescale for a smooth change of managership. The season, and our top flight status, will be at stake.

Like Pete Sixsmith, I believe it would be an act of extreme folly to get rid of Bruce unless a tip-top replacement were lined up. Sacking him for its own sake would be insane, repeating the mistakes made when parting company with star strikers.

I am still far from convinced that Bruce’s hand was not forced over Bent and Gyan; in the case of the former, the manager may have been acting as no more than a loyal employee when he said allowing him to go without anyone else being recruited was a calculated gamble.

With Gyan gone, again without hint of replacement, we have one attacker with proper Premier experience and he is only with us on loan. However good Ji and Wickham may one day become, they hardly fit the bill yet. What that means for our line-up at the Emirates a week in Sunday is open to speculation. We know we cannot use Bendtner against his parent club but let us hope Bruce has not forgotten the response to his experiment of starting without any striker at all at Brighton.

Yet in an ideal world, to the horror of many people who have written here of late, I would like to see Bruce turn our fortunes around with the squad he has assembled, subject to the strengthening needed in January. It is by no means certain that even a highly competent, carefully chosen successor arriving in late October or early November could do much better. A panic appointment would probably be disastrous.

Of course those who matter most in what happens at the club over the coming weeks or months – and in particular Ellis Short – should not seek to brush off the wave of criticism and concern as the fickle reaction of ungrateful supporters who know no better.

Most of the people who comment at Salut! Sunderland, and in far harsher terms at the Blackcats list, are mature, sensible fans who have devoted many years to supporting their club, developing a keen appreciation of what is good, bad and truly awful in football. Their views deserve respect.

Nor should we forget that after raising his eyebrows at Salut! Sunderland‘s resemblance to a cauldron of negativity, Ian_safc went on to say: “… some of the points I agree with … I must concede that, tactically, I think he has been outdone a number of times.”

That was not the whole story. Ian praised Bruce as being astute in the transfer market, a good man manager with strong relationships with players that Roy Keane did not have and the capacity to lead his team to the sort of encouraging displays we saw against Liverpool and Stoke. “I’m not calling for Bruce’s head yet,” Ian said. “Give him a few more games. We have perhaps the best squad we’ve ever had, capable of the most attrative football seen yet at the SOL. My cup is half full!”

And I would go along with that. A “calculated gamble” it may well be, but I have mentally extended my own period of judgement on Steve Bruce until Sunderland have completed a longer version of the run Pete Sixsmith envisages: namely, I would wait until we have seen what we manage to do not only this month against Arsenal, Villa and Bolton but also in the November matches, which start with what most would see as near-certain defeat at Old Trafford but then bring Wigan and Fulham to the Stadium of Light.

If the owner agrees with my assessment, I’d then expect Bruce to keep his job if he managed reasonable return from those six games.

If the run ended with SAFC in relegation trouble, I would hold the even weightier expectation that Mr Short had someone firmly in mind to take over.

And football being about results, I would add a very big proviso: if that someone has already been identified, but needs a quick decision, the sacrifice of Bruce might be made as early as necessary, a brutal act but in the interests of the greater good of SAFC.

That is fairly tepid support for Bruce but will still leave me out on a limb. Some will say my approach runs the risk of dumping us deeper into trouble before action is taken.

But as things stand, generous as it may seem, I’d give Steve Bruce six games not three to save his job. The only sensible option would be to sack him now and that would make sense only if a replacement was ready to took charge by mid-October.

Monsieur Salut

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15 thoughts on “From the ‘cauldron of negativity’, generous breathing space for Steve Bruce”

  1. AM I OVER AMBITIOUS BUT TO ME A DRAW AT HOME AGAINST WBA IS A POOR RESULT,BUT SB IS HAPPY,DOES THAT NOT SAY IT ALL ABOUT THE MAN,WITH HIM IN CHARGE MEDIOCRITY WILL BE ACCEPTED,HE HAS TO GO

  2. Sorry Joan but you miss the big picture. The main negativity comes from subtracting the other teams score from ours. Its similar to you being overcharged by the milkman then saying I will give him more time to get it right. Most of us are on modest incomes and paying to see a lot of poor outings at great expense. This tends to make you think twice about the next game and the possible waste of money hard earned. Time is not the only issue.

  3. Absolutely right that most would have blamed Bruce had we finished 13th, while putting it down to good luck that we finished 10th. Maybe Quinn is giving up as chairman because he’s sick of the negativity from supporters. Bruce is in the process of building a stronger squad. Bent’s goals previously papered over some of the weaknesses by producing results that were better than the overall performance. Recently, some of the performances have been better than the results. If every game was as bad as Norwich I’d agree that Bruce should be replaced, but this isn’t the case. Give him time.

  4. I’ll have to stay away from that not606 board. Someone has suggested Benitez if we get rid of Bruce! They are doing my napper in over there. 🙁

  5. Bruce is a dead man walking. If he isn’t then we know for sure that ES isn’t quite the man we thought he is. In the end he will have no issue in sacking SB though. It may be Quinn’s steadfast support for Bruce that has cost him. That might be substantiated sooner rather than later. He’s a clown, and has proven that time and time again. I’ve really had a gut full of Bruce, his selections, nonsensical tactics, and his pitiful excuses.

  6. My feeling about Bruce is that everything is about HIM. He is trying to prove to himself and everyone else that he is a top class manager. Its not about the Club, the supporters or the team-it is about Steve. Lets face it we could wait till the end of time for him to morph into Alex Ferguson. It is sad to see Quinn go, when he has given Sunderland so much, and Bruce remain. Surely Ellis Short cant be impressed by what he has been watching. I am at a loss to understand to undersgtand whats happening.

  7. There’s some numpty on not606 who is advocating that this is not the time to sack Bruce and that we should stick with him, because he should have been sacked in the summer!

    Give me strength!

  8. Quinny unfortunately has stood far too closely behind Bruce and that’s his own doing; I’m sorry to say. I’ve been saying this for several weeks and here we are. We might as well just stick with him until the end of the season now, so that we can prove he will get us relegated!

    What are the doubts about? What will more time prove? He’s useless and the evidence is completely overwhelming no matter how much some might think it will turn out otherwise.

  9. Personally, I can’t undrstand the ‘let’s give him one last chance’ camp. The evidence of our complete inability to string two good performances togethr over the last nine month is enough. The shambles we have had to watch being passesd of week in week out over this period is disgraceful.

    I agree that Bruce seems la canny bloke, and does have an eye for bargains, however if you can not get your bargains to at least play a semblance of premiership football then whats the point. Jeremy’s right he should have walked six month ago because he is quite clearly out of his depth at this time at this club.

    What now makes all these arguments doubally painful is that because he didnt jump/ wasn’t moved on, we have just lost the best Chairman in footbal,l was it a price worth paying for SB’s last last chances?

    I Think Not.

  10. I don’t think he has it in him to walk Malcolm. Too mercenary by half. He will have to be pushed. I hope that Ellis Short just gets in with it and gives him a shove. He’s had nine months to sort out this mess and hasn’t. That’s enough time and games. He’s a dismal failure as manager and for me the time for debate is over. He should have been sacked six months ago.

  11. I have for some time now, and in common with many others, become less and less enamoured by the Premer League and what it has become. I ummed and ahhed about whether to go on Saturday after the pathetic display of Monday and the Tevez and Bramble incidents.

    I went, because that is what you do when you can, and actually I kind of enjoyed the game in a strange way, though left feeling it was an opportunity lost rather than a great fightback.

    We all know that most players on their massive salaries are light years away from the rest of us and their motivation nothing like that which saw many of us play for free for so many years.

    Likewise the owners of the clubs are now all businessmen motivated by business plans and commercial considerations, but at least in Quinny we had a Chairman who shared our ambitions that a football club should try and win matches and ultimately trophies. Now we have a Chairman who although a successful businessman, will have a business model rather than a football one.

    Whether Bruce keeps his job or not will now depend upon the objectives of the owner/chairman and this will be based on financial rather than footballing objectives. The manager, whoever it is, will be a coach, working with the players he is told to work with rather than ones he wishes to sign.

    Like Colin, I suspect Bruce had little say in the departures of B£nt and Gy£n, and even though he may not have fought to keep Ferdinand and Malbranque I suspect that the decision to release those players was not his either. If Bruce is released, unless he does a McClaren, he will go when the compensation he is due becomes affordable, weighed against the envisaged turnover of the club. The threat of relegation will tilt the scales, a comfortable lower mid table position allow him breathing space.

    But back to the main thrust of the posting. If you accept that Bruce has been working as a coach who has to get the best from the squad at his disposal, we have to ask have his selections and tactics cut the mustard. In 2011 they haven’t.

  12. I’m getting tired of Bruce telling us that our expectations are too high.
    “There is a huge expectation, bigger than it ever should be.”
    I can’t remember when our club has had so much backing from the top as that which Niall has generated over the last few years and that has been wasted. He himself built up the hype with his own comments about his intentions and planned achievements. I now note that he is down playing his expectations. 10th last season and another summer rebuild and he now says “We will still be pushing to finish in or around that 10th position”
    I also don’t get this time to gel business. What was pre-season for? You don’t pay good money to go and see a band or show to be told they’re still practicing. We are the one that pay our hard earned money to go to matches and therefore are fully entitled to criticise and demand better. If you can’t stand the heat …..

  13. I agree with most, if not all, of this article.

    I say Dec 3rd to see what Bruce can do with the current squad. The football we have played so far has gone from the ugly to the sublime and a generous mix of the 2.

    From the season so far, there has been enough of the good, imo, to show that Bruce just might come good over the next games.

    Arsenal’s defensive troubles give me hope that we got get a point or 3 from them. I would bet on Sess and Wickham/Ji causing their defence a bundle of trouble (if Sess from WBA/Stoke turns up, and not the one from Norwich).

  14. Well constructed and interesting piece. Whilst I believe Bruce should be given 3 games to sort the mess out. Now that Niall isnt steering the ship, Short will be sharpening his axe as I write. He is a businessman and not a footballing man. He will see the gates fall and the fans moods as a reflection on SB. I doubt he will stand by and watch the club freefall in a vane promise that SB will bring it together and we shall rocket up the table. Business is a ruthless and proactive place. I predict, SB gone after/if we lose at Arsenal. O’Niell or Moyes, but heard a rumour that Reidy was overheard to say he wants a second shot at the Club, Watch this space………..

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