Hull’s plight out of Steve Bruce’s hands now
Hard to keep a good man down but former Manchester United captain must have that sinking feeling
“A great pro, his nice, self-deprecating sense of humour concealing a steely resolve to get the job done. Steve was up for every game . . . if you were to create the perfect club captain it would be Brucey,” said Roy Keane of former Manchester United team-mate Steve Bruce. Photograph: Ryan Browne/PA.
In the passage behind the pressroom, where the heat and scrutiny had been intense, Steve Bruce stared downwards as he spoke. He looked pale and forlorn.
He is greying and overweight, a self- confessed pork pie habit doing his waistline little good. He is no picture of health and what he had just seen had not helped. “I wish I could hide it,” he said, “but at the moment I’m totally shocked.”
This was the scene at the KC stadium a fortnight ago. Burnley had just won 1-0 to leave Hull City’s Premier League status in serious jeopardy.
Burnley had been relegated that afternoon, but at least victory had left them with something to cling to.
Hull, meanwhile, were adrift, crestfallen – as personified by their aghast manager – and the sometimes uncomfortable way these things work is that as Burnley’s Sean Dyche talked of his team’s achievements and his club’s progress, Bruce was five yards down the corridor lamenting a performance and result that he knew held potentially grim consequences.
And here they come. A week on from Burnley, Hull lost at Tottenham. In between, news emerged that Jake Livermore – on whom Bruce spent £8 million (€11.5m) – had failed a drugs test. Cocaine had been found in his system.
It meant Hull City were third-bottom with one player less and one game left: against Manchester United.
It means Hull, and Steve Bruce, can be relegated by the club Bruce did as much as any player to revive in the early 1990s. For Bruce, this is as personally painful a sporting scenario as he could imagine.
As Ryan Giggs has recalled, it was to Bruce’s house that the Manchester United squad headed the night the league title was won in 1993, for the first time in 26 years.
‘Positive influence’Bryan Robson
And as Alex Ferguson wrote of Bruce in 1999, three years after Bruce had left for Birmingham City: “Far from being a risk, the big Geordie was a banker, one of the dourest and most dependable defenders ever to play for me.
“His resolution was mingled with warmth and modesty, so that he commanded respect and affection in equal measure. He led by example and fully deserved the honour of going on (after Robson bowed out) to become the most successful captain in United’s history.”
These are but three appreciations of Bruce from Old Trafford. There are many more. Which is why Sunday could be such a long, agonizing afternoon for the 54-year-old.
United fans at the poorly named KC stadium won’t forget Bruce’s contribution. His goals, such as the two he scored late against Sheffield Wednesday on April 10th 1993, are part of Old Trafford’s modern history.
That day changed United’s landscape, now United have the chance to change his. Only it won’t be quite so cheery for him if it happens.
The good news is that while Sunderland’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal took the Wearsiders out of the relegation equation, it also took Arsenal three points ahead of United and with a superior goal difference of seven.
It means United are most unlikely to finish third and Louis van Gaal may decide to field a one-off selection.
Conspiracy theorists on Tyneside will have a lot to say should that be the case. Because it is now between the club Bruce used to go to watch as a boy – Newcastle United – and the one he manages – Hull.
Even a Hull victory does not guarantee survival though. If Hull win, Bruce needs Newcastle to lose or draw, and Newcastle are at home to West Ham United.
Promisingly for Bruce, while West Ham’s season is meandering to its mid-table end, and manager Sam Allardyce is on his way out of Upton Park, Allardyce is expected to relish frustrating Newcastle, the club that sacked him.
Deep down Bruce knew that day that the Burnley result was so damaging. He must wonder how a year after leading 2-0 in an FA Cup final and 10 months after playing in Europe for the first time in Hull City’s history, he is confronted with this prospect.
If there is one last straw to grasp at, it is that the forever lesson he learned at Ferguson’s United is that it’s not over til it is.
Steve Bruce was once Exhibit A of that attitude, the day he scored against Sheffield Wednesday six minutes into Fergie time.