Steve Bruce met the South Yorkshire press yesterday after he had spent his first day training with the Sheffield Wednesday players. The thirteen minute press conference can be watched in full below. Bruce said that the role as manager of the Owls “might be my last job. He returns from his month long break refreshed and “ready to get back on the horse again.”
The new Owls boss said: “I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to go back into management. But when I got the phone call from the Chairman, and I met his enthusiasm when I got face to face with them, that started the adrenalin going.”
I am aware that there are people out there wondering why I have published three articles about this Championship appointment, writes Vernon Grant. Perhaps some of you think Steve Bruce and I are best mates. After all, it was I who first broke the story that he had been approached by Wednesday. That was late November. I didn’t expect to be called rude names by fellow Wednesdayites. But I guess that is the state of play on Twitter these days. A sad sign of the times in which we live.
Truth be told, Steve Bruce wouldn’t be able to pick me out from a line up. Our paths have crossed rarely, and as long ago as the 1980’s and 90’s. So, no, I don’t claim to be his biggest fan. In the early stages of his managerial career I was critical of how he so quickly flitted between one club and the next. But that was a long time ago and none of us should be judged on what we did more than twenty years ago.
Despite living thousands of miles from Sheffield, I received a tip off from a contact in a good position to know, that Mr. Chansiri had met Steve Bruce in Thailand. I followed this up by speaking with other trusted contacts built up during my long career, first in Fleet Street newspapers and then as a producer of televised sports programmes. One contact in particular, close to Bruce himself, confirmed what I had been told was correct.
So it was that, in the last days of November of 2018, I was able to tweet via @VGTIPS1 that Sheffield Wednesday were going to replace the hapless Jos Luhukay with a new manager. One very experienced in the Championship. Predictably, all Owls fans asked me to reveal the identity (including those who called me, among other things, “a prick” and “a fraud”). Needless to say I told those people a few home truths. But not the name of Steve Bruce. As a Wednesday fan I was not about to risk being the person who prevented this appointment by putting the information out there in the public domain before the deal was done. After all, it wasn’t only Sheffield Wednesday calling Bruce. I revealed the name of the new manager only to a handful of people I knew I could trust to keep it quiet, including some fellow mature Owls fans.
As I am no longer in the business of writing or producing football stories, other than for my own website, I passed my information on to the experienced journalist Alan Biggs of the Sheffield Star and he had some private, off the record words with Steve Bruce. I was happy that Alan was able to eventually break the story himself once an agreement had been reached between the club and Bruce.
My contacts had informed me that Steve wanted certain assurances before agreeing to take the job. One was no middle man (or woman) deciding which players should be brought into the club, and which would be shown the exit door. He wants total control over such affairs. He has received such assurances. Rightly so. We have seen too many situations in recent times whereby a manager is blamed for the performance of players he has had nothing to do with purchasing.
Steve Bruce wants to stand or fall by his own player acquisitions and he got busy straight away, bringing in three players on deadline day.
At 9 minutes in the below press conference video you can see how long Bruce looks at his Chairman as – for reasons known only to the journalist concerned – Mr. Chansiri is asked three times if he still plans to sell the club. Having already agreed in principle to join Wednesday, Bruce had earlier been shocked that the Chairman had told fans at a forum that he was putting the club for sale. That was on December 19th. It was the moment Bruce was in danger of changing his mind. No manager wants to join a club where the ownership is likely to change. A new owner almost always equals a new manager.
The Chairman claims he had immediate offers ranging from 35 million pounds to a whopping £135 million. I think I’ll take that with a similar pinch of salt to his original threat to sell up. A threat made out of frustration following a gruelling and at times angry open meeting with fans. I don’t know Mr. Chansiri but I suspect he is a clever man. Not only because you do not become the ‘King of Tuna’ without first being a shrewd businessman, but also because I believe he used that forum as a means to make a change in management. After all, he had already approached Bruce a month earlier and fully intended to replace the failing incumbent manager. He effectively used the fans “sack him” message to do what he was already intending. This way he could be seen to do what the supporters were demanding. Cheeky? Yes. Exploitative? Possibly. Clever? Definitely.
The managerial career of Steve Bruce, which I have written about here, is not without controversy. He is far from alone in initially getting on with a Chairman, only to fall out spectacularly later on. Simon Jordan, the one time flash owner of Crystal Palace, fell out with almost all his managers in the end, including Bruce. Legal action was never far from Jordan’s mind. He took Bruce to the High Court where Jordan won a temporary injunction preventing Bruce from leaving Selhurst Park without first serving nine months notice, the length of time remaining on his contract at Palace.
Jordan wrote a book called ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.’ In it he writes about when Steve Bruce wanted to leave Palace for Birmingham City. He says: “Bruce implied I was talking to him like a dog. I replied that couldn’t be true because a dog has loyalty and he has none.” Ouch!
Jordan negotiated with Birmingham owner David Sullivan. He told Sullivan: “I want £300.000, plus all my legal costs covered for the injunction, which are about £30.000, and I also want you to cover more costs, as I am being sued for unfair dismissal because Steve sacked a female masseuse, saying that there was no place for women in football… and he can’t join you until after 11 December when we play you. Sullivan agreed the deal and the Bruce chapter, as far as I was concerned, was over.
“It was a shame. Bruce had done a brilliant job while he was at Palace, and I believed he could have gone on to achieve big things had he stayed. We have since become firm friends and on numerous occasions he has apologised and we’ve both put it down to experience.”
“I still believe Steve Bruce is one of the country’s best managers” said Simon Jordan.
I’m hoping there is a more harmonious working relationship between Bruce and Chansiri. I’m reasonably confident that he will do a good job, despite the constraints of Financial Fair Play. As Bruce said at the press conference, several clubs have that problem to cope with.
I prefer to concentrate on his record of getting Championship clubs to the play offs without limitless money to spend. Not for him the riches invested at Wolves last season, who achieved automatic promotion. He has taken clubs to play offs or promotion to the Premier League without the benefit of big budgets. But Wednesdayites will have to be patient. Yet again. Bruce needs the rest of this season to find his feet and at least a full two seasons after that before he can be judged. I urge Owls fans to give him that much time.
Bruce says he is ready for the challenge ahead at Sheffield Wednesday. I hope he is. I suspect this will be his final job in football club management so it would be good for him to be remembered as the man who took a massive club, with phenomenal support, back to the promised land of the Premier League.