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Opinion

Steve Bruce – Premier League Manager (Head Coach) Of The Month? Not For Me

5 months ago
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Steve Bruce is one of the four nominations to be Premier League Manager of the Month for April 2021.

On paper, he had every right to be in the mix.

Two wins and two draws meant we finished the month unbeaten and with eight valuable points.

The draws were against two of the Greedy Six, Liverpool and Tottenham, and one of the wins was against West Ham who are above those two in the league.

What an honour it would be to have our football club being led by the manager of the month.

Wait a minute, shouldn’t that be Head Coach of the Month? Does Bruce even qualify?

Maybe I’m alone, but I really, really don’t want Steve Bruce to win this award. Can you imagine the fallout?

On top of his, ‘I’ve been a manager for 20+ years and managed 800+ league games so I think I know what I’m doing’ routine, he’d have a new weapon, a new catchphrase. ‘You don’t get voted Manager of the Month for doing a bad job’ or ‘You have to be a top manager to receive the Manager of the Month award over your Klopps and your Guardiolas.’

Then you’d have the pundits gloating. Steve Bruce found his support was thin before April. The gobby, brainless Bruce fan club had wilted away when his record read two wins from twenty one games. They came back with a vengeance once Bruce stumbled his way to four wins in twenty four games. That’s still only one win every six games. We’re now down to four wins in twenty five and after Leicester and Man City are very likely to be looking at four in twenty seven.

The Steve Bruce fan club already batter us with baseless taunts such as ‘he’s doing as good a job as Rafa’ and ‘he got as many points last season as Rafa did in his first season’ conveniently ignoring the platform that Rafa built, which Bruce has taken the demolition squad to, and the healthy financial backing Bruce has had since Rafa walked away.

Looking at the actual performances of the month itself is the biggest reason Bruce shouldn’t win the award.

I’m going to give him credit for the first two games of the month. Against Tottenham he changed the shape. After months of doing things ‘his way’ he reverted to Rafa’s way and implemented a back five. Remember the players are used to playing that way and after close to two full seasons under Bruce, it’s unfair to assume that they can implement a different formation. They’re only paid millions a year. Besides, Bruce insisted that it was actually a 3-5-2 which may have fooled any fans that didn’t watch the game. But for those of us gifted with sight, who watched the match, it was clear what the formation was and has been since.

We do look a lot more compact in a 5-3-2/5-4-1 and it is good to see two wholehearted and passionate players getting starts at wingback rather than having Hendrick lumbering around the middle of the pitch.

The change of style and personnel worked and, although Kane should have secured a hattrick at 2-1 and put us out of the game, he didn’t. We were worthy of a point and managed to secure one.

Against Burnley, he stuck with the same team. There was a lot of criticism pre-game and post for the fact that Saint-Maximin hadn’t started. We only got the three points due to his inspiration after coming on. I for one, was happy that he didn’t start and I’m not convinced the performance or result would have been better had he started. I felt the plan was right here again. Reward the team that did so well against Spurs and try and keep the game tight, hopefully seeing us through to half time with the scores level. Then unleash ASM and Wilson and turn the game on its head. The only change I would have made would be to bring Willock in for Shelvey but there was never any chance of that.

We all know it didn’t end up being straightforward and Burnley took the lead in the first half, punishing us for a shambolic performance. As it happens, ASM still did enough in seven minutes to turn defeat into victory but apart from that glorious spell we were poor for most of the second half too.

Despite being lucky to grab the win, I would argue Bruce got that call right. Maybe ASM would have been brilliant from the start and we would have strolled to a 3-0 victory (not that we have done that often under Bruce). Or maybe ASM would have started slowly, been bullied all first half and we would have been forced to sacrifice him at half time or partway through the second half. That would have deflated us rather than energising us and might have seen us slump to a defeat (Quick note on winning by three goal margins. We have only won two league games by three goals under Bruce and one of those was against a ten-man Sheffield United. We are yet to do it at all this season, and we have never won by four. We won five games by three goal margins under Rafa and his last game was a 4-0 victory. There’s yet another stat to send to the Bruce lovers as evidence that he’s taken us backwards).

Any credit I’ve given Steve Bruce for last month ends here.

Despite West Ham showering us with gifts in the first half, we turned a two goal, one man advantage into a slideshow on how not to perform in this scenario. After the game, Steve Bruce told reporters how he had encouraged his team to be on the front foot and push on. I can imagine Matt Ritchie watching that on Match of the Day and whispering ‘coward’ as he downed the last of his Irn-Bru. Clearly that wasn’t the instruction, or the game plan, and we almost threw it all away. It was pulled back to 2-2 and West Ham looked the more likely team to win. The introduction of Willock saved us again.

Against Liverpool we were battered from pillar to post and back again. On another day, we would have lost 5-0 but Bruce had dashed his last fistful of fairy dust onto the Anfield turf and his luck held out once more, Willock yet again coming on to save the day and grab us a point in the depths of stoppage time.

What would we have done without the loan signing of Willock this season? Imagine if we’d had Bentaleb back instead. We’d probably be in the relegation zone currently.

May has seen us return to form with a 2-0 defeat at home to Arsenal. A complete non-performance, typical of what we are used to.

History won’t remember all of April’s luck. The pundits won’t point to it and neither will Bruce himself. Forevermore, Steve Bruce would be the April 2021 Manager of the Month and we would be the moronic fanbase that didn’t recognise his brilliance. It would be his first Premier League Manager of the Month award in all those years of essential experience that he bleats on about and he would have matched the Mighty Rafa on that score too (during tenures at Newcastle – Rafa has seven in total having managed a lot less Premier League games). Bruce would be heralded amongst such managerial luminaries as Phil Brown, Gary Megson and Brian McDermott (all previous recipients. Interestingly Souness has 2 and Kinnear 4!).

Maybe it’s just me that feels this way but I’m confident it isn’t. What a sad state of affairs when one or more fans don’t want their own manager to win a personal accolade. Sadder still when you consider that I would prefer Man Utd’s manager to get the award than our own.

The truth is, the way Steve Bruce has conducted himself over the last two years has been embarrassing. The poor performances, the excuses, the targeting of fans and certain players, the cheap shots at Rafa, the sucking up to Ashley. Then on top of having to endure all of that, we as fans have been mocked by pundits and fans of other clubs for being ungrateful for having such a top bloke as our manager.

I wonder how much reading Steve Bruce does in his spare time. Does he read the biographies of great managers looking for hints and tips? Does he scour Fergie’s biography but get distracted and end up totting up how many times his name is mentioned, completely forgetting the original purpose of his study? Does he read motivational books and repeat to himself at night that he is a great manager, he will accumulate points and he won’t walk away from a challenge (pay-off)?

There’s a famous book called How to Win Friends and Influence People. I feel like Bruce has implemented its antithesis: How To Lose Games and Alienate Fans.

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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