Tempting providence or not, Lars Knutsen feels Steve Bruce may be left with egg on his Newcastle-supporting, Sunderland-phobic face after missing a fair few grand opportunities to shut up with his whining …
It would be a huge understatement to say that this has been an eventful couple of years at our beloved Sunderland Association Football Club.
First, the manager’s office door has been revolving so much that one could rightly be concerned about the state of its hinges, and the regular changes of corporate structure, management and coaches have been overwhelming at times. And amid those changes, the legend that is Niall Quinn left us.
Secondly, we have also experienced a phenomenal turnover of players since Roy Keane walked in the door and took us to our last promotion in 2007.
During such existential strain and stress, it is tempting to live in the past, reliving the story of a club that has won six league championships and the FA Cup twice, has been in numerous semi-finals but was last in an FA Cup Final in 1992.
In our minds as fans, success should not be just measured by staying in the Premier League, but by actually winning something. Our excellent revival under Gus Poyet has given the club real Carling Cup hope against a faltering Chelsea eight days before Christmas. Three wins have led to hope that the SSOL is becoming a stronghold again.
We have an American owner who will give managers time as long as there is a level of success and a plan to move the club forward. The US from my own experience is a land of “hire and fire” but I respect Ellis Short for backing his managers until situations become untenable. Some, notably the last three, have let him down badly and not shown serious hope of bringing the club to where it should be. Otherwise they would still be with us, instead of moaning in the media …
I have been horrified by the recent statements, and the apparent huge egos of Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill, both of whom let Sunderland down desperately yet seem to look at their times at the club through rose-tinted spectacles.
Steve Bruce was outspoken against the Black Cats ahead of the incident-packed game at Hull. He said it was “arguably a mistake” to have taken the Sunderland job. Well, who made that mistake? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/24772929.)
As I posted on Salut’s Facebook page, this is disingenuous by Bruce, blaming some of the failures of his time at Sunderland on the fact he is a Geordie. It did not stop Bob Stokoe. In fact, Bruce’s words are almost as extreme as those of Howard Wilkinson after his 2003 sacking, the Yorkshireman having won all of four of 27 games.
What about the handling of Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent, the sale of Jordan Henderson and the long winless runs fans had to endure? It is true he took us to the top six for a while, and we do not know what went on behind the office door, but to be honest Bruce’s last year in charge was pretty awful. His final summer in Sunderland was spent rebuilding the side, but the process was ultimately shown to be a failure.
What Bruce conveniently ignored was the way he recruited but failed to motivate some of the attacking stars at the Stadium of Light. Bent was signed and made a great start with 24 goals in his first full season. But he did not have a consistent partner upfront and when the team did play particularly well, such as in the 3-0 rout of Chelsea at the Bridge, “goalhanger” Bent did not feature.
When Asamoah Gyan was signed, the resident top scorer seemed put out, even though we reached a post-Peter Reid high point of sixth in the league after that Chelsea win three years ago. Bruce’s handling of these stars was suspect as Bent soon left acrimoniously to Aston Villa, only for his career ultimately to slump dramatically to where it is now, trying and failing to blend with Berbatov at Craven Cottage.
So Bruce had his moments but when Gyan went AWOL to the Middle East and, along with injuries, it meant we effectively had no strikers for the 2011 run in. We struggled badly and were only safe after local hero Jordan Henderson scored a brace against Wigan. Our 10th place finish hid a lot of errors; a winless run of nine games, featuring eight defeats from early February to April 16 left supporters understandably anxious at the end of the season.
Bruce is a self-confessed Geordie, born in Corbridge (but on which side of the river I often wonder? County Durham would have been fine!). But in the face of success, that particular lapse of birth would have been forgiven, in the same way as it wasn’t an issue for Stokoe, Pop Robson, Bob Moncur, Ron Guthrie or others. It did eventually emerge as a problem for Lee Clark, but only because like Bruce, he made it into one.
I must admit to a loss of respect for the former United stopper who has been bleating constantly since leaving the club.
If he just admitted that his handling of Bent, Gyan, Henderson, Muntari and Zenden undid him and that he has learned from those tough times, rather than saying he was not accepted because of an accident of birth, we would look at his time with us more favourably.
So we are happy to let Bruce manage a club in a Rugby League town, struggling to get over 22,000 for a home game, and to provide a home to our former players and have his deluded view of his time at the SSOL. I predict now that we will finish above Hull City Tigers or whatever they are called today.
Just don’t get me started on Martin O’Neill…
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