COMMENTARY | At Hull City, Steve Bruce has added a third EPL promotion to his managerial résumé and is in a position to relegate past troubles to mere footnotes by scripting a new -- perhaps defining -- chapter in his career narrative.
Prior to taking the helm at Hull City, Steve Bruce's managerial career had been characterized by critics as little more than a series of tumultuous, short-lived coaching stints concluded by him either walking out or being dismissed, laced with bouts of employer and boardroom troubles, and even accusations of racism from players.
Bruce walked out on Wigan Athletic after being with the club only two months following their 2001 loss in the Second Division playoffs; then walked out on Crystal Palace three months into the 2001-02 season with the club sitting atop the First Division. A second stint with Wigan Athletic led to a mid-table 2008-09 EPL season finish, only to see Bruce leave to take the managerial position at Sunderland. Despite respectable finishes in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 EPL seasons, Sunderland dismissed Bruce in November 2010 with the club languishing in 16th place.
Advocates regard Bruce as resilient, with an ability to seize a club's potential and lead them to, or keep them in, the EPL. His résumé features two prior EPL promotions with Birmingham City (2001-02 and 2006-07) and two 10th Place EPL finishes: One with Birmingham City, the other with Sunderland.
Success at Hull has garnered Bruce the confidence and trust of his current employer, Hull City chairman Assem Allam, who is reportedly set to negotiate a pay raise and extend Bruce's contract beyond the currently remaining two years.
Realistically, Allam's current measure of trust in Bruce probably has about a three- to four-year lifespan, provided Hull City survives their EPL baptism by fire next season and finishes around mid-table over the two ensuing seasons. Beyond that, Bruce knows as well as anyone, the life of an EPL manager can be a short one if words like "confidence" and "trust" don't rapidly translate into hard, evermore impressive results.
Assem Allam took the reins as chairman of the relegated and financially troubled Hull City in 2010, and immediately put up £36million of his own money to satisfy the club's debts and keep them solvent. Allam's focused intent to make his investment pay off and return the club to EPL fortunes initially raised eyebrows when he sacked popular hometown manager Nick Barmby.
Delivering European Dreams
Having achieved his initial objective of returning Hull City to the EPL, Allam is ready to soundly and smartly invest in talent upgrades necessary to compete in the EPL and achieve more ambitious goals.
In a May 2013 Football 365 interview, Allam said, "I would like to see European football here. That is my dream for the fans and it is achievable. Obviously, it will be difficult finishing in the top four of the Premier League without massive spending but there will be chances in the Cup competitions."
If Bruce can deliver on Allam's dreams and bring European football to KC Stadium, not only will the Crystal Palace, Wigan and Sunderland ghosts of seasons past be effectively vanquished, but Bruce will be forever enshrined in Hull City football lore.
In addition to the turmoil of past managerial positions, questions continue to linger about Bruce's tactical acumen relevant to his established EPL counterparts. Admittedly, no one has ever confused Bruce for Johan Cruyff or Pep Guardiola. At least with Hull, what critics claim Bruce may lack as a tactician, he has more than compensated for in terms of player management and tailoring his tactics accordingly.
For most of the 2012-13 Championship season, Bruce ran a 3-5-2 system, occasionally switching to a 4-4-2 -- most notably in Hull's final match against Cardiff City. While, as Bruce pointed out in an April 2013 Guardian interview, his use of the 3-5-2 was a pragmatic decision designed to accommodate the skills and pace of center-back Abdoulaye Faye and midfielder Robert Koren, he readily admits having enjoyed the liberty to be creative and experiment with his formations.
In the EPL, Bruce will not be afforded such liberties. Given the amount of money Hull has available for player acquisitions, it is highly unlikely they will be able to land the requisite talent needed to make the 3-5-2 work, let alone the kind of collective technical dexterity required to freely flow between different formations.
Managerial Skill Set
The high level of EPL competition demands that a successful manager come armed with a complete set of critical skills. At a minimum, this skill set includes: Astute player management, advanced knowledge and proficient application of sports science, and sound, insightful tactical expertise. In the EPL, deficiencies in one or more of these areas readily translate into a short managerial lifespan. Most recently, EPL fans and followers have been poignantly reminded that at the highest level of the league, a manager can bring home trophies and still be shown the door for ineffective or controversial player management.
Does Bruce possess the managerial skill set necessary to lift Hull City above the threat of relegation and establish the club on the EPL landscape? Yes.
Is Bruce capable of taking the club to the next level and embarking on chairman Allam's ambitious European dreams? His résumé suggests: No.
Then again, Steve Bruce is a living testament to managerial resilience and has a habit of proving his critics wrong.
Harold has followed Hull City AFC since its Third Division days of the late-'90s. He has played, coached and been involved with a variety of soccer/football-related interests in Holland, England, the U.S., Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Italy for nearly three decades.
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