The two managers on the touchline for West Bromwich Albion’s Championship opener with Middlesbrough are seen in very different lights. One manager has won two promotions from this level in his career, and the other just the one. Yet it's Chris Wilder who carries all the acclaim and reputation - so much so that we have even picked Boro to win the league this year.
Comparatively, Steve Bruce has been almost completely written off in terms of a manager. He may have taken Sunderland and Hull to the Premier League, but recently the negativity that surrounds him as a manager has overshadowed any good work he has done. Albion provides a fresh start, and the club and fans to their credit have been on the whole unwilling to follow this negativity.
He didn’t get them back in the promotion mix last term but with the signings of John Swift and Jed Wallace this summer, hopes are high that he can make it a hat-trick at the Hawthorns. If this pre-season promise can turn into a strong season, Bruce has the chance to repair his battered reputation.
At Newcastle United, he was hounded out of a job that he was never truly the right fit for. The fans were never on his side and the last few months of his tenure were like watching a guest at someone else’s party. He reached 1000 professional games in charge with little more than a murmur and his eventual sacking, which everybody saw coming, brought sweet relief to one of the most painful managerial spells in football.
But this was Mike Ashley’s Newcastle and the decade-long hatred of the owner had riled up the fans to breaking point. Bruce was simply an easy target for this frustration and once the results dried up on the pitch, the abuse began. Having already managed Sunderland, it was never going to end well.
I’m not saying that Bruce is a saint - far from it - and there are clear reasons why his reputation has fallen off a cliff in recent years. Sheffield Wednesday patiently waited for him to take the job only for him to ditch them after just 18 games when Newcastle came calling. That hardly enamoured him to the Wednesday faithful.
At Aston Villa before that, he failed to get one of the most stacked squads in the Championship promoted, even though he had a side that featured Jack Grealish and John Terry. A play-off final loss was utterly heartbreaking after Villa had finished fourth, but Bruce had taken the side to a top six finish - something West Brom will be hoping he can replicate this season.
Having managed Birmingham and Aston Villa, both Sheffield Wednesday and United and Newcastle and Sunderland, you can see why Bruce isn’t a popular name amongst the footballing community. He hasn’t followed a set career path and instead has bounced from rival to rival, unintentionally pissing people off along the way.
But West Brom are a relatively harmless club, and one that Bruce can be given time to get his feet under the table. Their Valerien Ismael experiment didn’t work and now he’s got his feet under the table, perhaps Bruce can wind back the clock to deliver another Championship promotion.
This is his chance for a fresh start and a chance to rebuild both his confidence and his reputation. Given his track record however, he’ll probably quit midway through the season to join Wolves…
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