This article may be perceived by many as an easy swipe at a still target, but let me assure you readers, I’ve felt this way for quite some time. Steve Bruce stated today that he was the right man to lead Sunderland forward in the future, but after daring to delve a little deeper into Bruce’s muddled team selection and transfer policy while at the club, it’s fair to say that the only thing keeping Bruce in a job at the moment (in my opinion) is his relatively high standing within the game, all of course, garnered during his time as a player, as a manager, however, Bruce leaves a lot to be desired.
Sunderland at the moment look to be a club in absolute freefall. On form, they are currently the worst team plying their trade in the top flight, with just one point and seven defeats from their last eight league games. The main mitigating factor in Bruce’s defence has been the at times crippling injury list which he has had to work with. But this article isn’t solely about the dismal run the club are currently on, but whether Bruce remains the best man for the job.
Bruce stated that: “Eight games ago, I was the best thing since sliced bread – in some people’s eyes – and within eight games, now all of a sudden people want me out” before going onto add “It is what it is, managing in the North East. But I still don’t regret it, I am still confident I am the right person for the job.”
Now an eight game winless run, in a league as difficult to read and close as this year’s Premier League is always likely to render you in trouble. Sunderland have gone from a side challenging for a European place, to one which is now just six points off of 18th placed West Ham and in real danger of being sucked into a relegation dogfight.
One thing to extrapolate from Aston Villa’s troubles this season has been their relative success since the acquisition of Darren Bent and his former club’s troubles since his departure. With Bent at the club, Sunderland managed to gather 34 points from 23 games, since he left for Villa they’ve only accrued 4 points from 9 games. Aston Villa on the other hand have added a much needed 15 points from 10 games, whereas prior to his arrival it was 22 points from 22 games.
As of now, Villa now stand just one point behind Sunderland in the league, despite the troubles of Houllier’s spell at the club. Should Villa leapfrog Sunderland in the league and go onto finish ahead of them in the league at the end of play, then there will be no greater vindication of Bent’s move than that. With the price of relegation ever more costly, the £24m Villa shelled out on Bent in January is starting to look like something representing value for money.
Asamoah Gyan has proved a successful signing, yet he cannot be relied upon in the same way to deliver a consistent stream of goals in the way Bent was during his time on Wearside. It’s fair to say that they’ve felt his loss a lot more keenly than they had ever previously anticipated.
Bruce thinks he remains a divisive figure among Sunderland fans due to his Geordie heritage, however, I think this would prove to be nothing more than a useful deflective tactic of the manager to use when under pressure. In a league as competitive as the Premier League, where hopes are dashed and reignited on an almost weekly basis, would Bruce still be in a job were it not for his standing within the game as a player?
Also, when looking at the Sunderland squad, it’s difficult to define quite what a Steve Bruce player is. Baring the smorgasbord of nationalities, which make a mockery of the petulant tantrum by Marcos Angeleri earlier on in the campaign, Bruce has no definable quality that he looks for in a player which makes entrusting him with the task of rebuilding the squad in the summer all the more worrying. The squad lacks a coherent plan behind it and the shape of the first-team line-up looks like an ever-changing scenario, even without the bad run of injuries that they‘ve had.
During his time at Sunderland, Bruce has received significant backing from messrs Short and Quinn, yet there has been little progress made to represent value for money in the faith emplaced in Bruce in the transfer market so far. The side still looks short of width and pace as well as a leader or two among the ranks.
Such is the paucity of quality within the bottom rungs of the Premier League, that Sunderland should be just about safe come the end of the season. They have a modest run-in in which they should be able to pick up the points required to ensure their safety, yet there has to be real concern around the hierarchy of Sunderland football club that Bruce’s time at the club is spent and that in order to rouse the troops going into a new campaign, fresh ideas and methods are needed at the helm.
Under Bruce‘s management, Sunderland remain a Premier League side (just about) lacking direction and in search of an identity; it is because of this that Bruce deserves to go, not because of his Geordie roots or the eight game winless streak that he will inevitably point to as reasons for discontent on the terraces. His failure to arrest the club’s slide and the downturn in performances on the pitch is an indication of a wider, larger problem at the club and one that I very much doubt Bruce is capable of turning around.
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