Is Bruce the right man to get Villa back on track?
STEVE Bruce, Aston Villa manager. But for how long? Bruce’s future is among the multitude of issues to be resolved as Villa try to pick up the pieces of their devastating failure to achieve promotion to the Premier League.
The 57-year-old has been on holiday as he tries to recover from the crushing disappointment of the Championship play-off defeat to Fulham at Wembley.
With the club in financial turmoil, Bruce is yet to receive assurances he will remain in charge for next season. There has been no public or private backing of the manager from club owner Tony Xia.
And there are even some suggestions he could walk if he isn’t satisfied with the outlook for next season, although we understand that’s unlikely.
Since the Wembley woes a fortnight ago, our website, BirminghamLive, has carried a Bruce approval rating poll asking fans whether he should stay or go.
It has attracted more than 15,000 votes, with 61 per cent choosing ‘Yes, he’s the man to get us up’ and 39 per cent opting for ‘No, he hasn’t achieved what he was asked’.
Bruce was a top-class defender and it seems his son, Alex, has followed in his dad’s footsteps when it comes to defending the Villa boss.
He ended a recent tweet endorsing his father with the word ‘Failure’ and a crying-with-laughter emoji. The inference being Bruce senior had actually succeeded.
Admirable loyalty, but there’s no disputing the fact Bruce and Villa failed last season. The brief was promotion. Villa didn’t get promoted. Ergo failure.
How accountable Bruce that remains to be seen.
While somebody finds a pair of tweezers to pluck the splinters from my backside let me explain why I have mixed feelings about the managerial situation.
Bruce repaired the broken relationship between the team and the fans, raised the standards in the dressing room and helped provide more wins and happy memories in 2017-18 than Villa have managed in the previous decade.
He also did it on a much tighter transfer budget than predecessor Roberto Di Matteo. The £2.5 million he had last summer to shape his side wouldn’t even have bought Ross McCormack’s gates.
It was Bruce’s contacts, influence and reputation that attracted John Terry, Robert Snodgrass and Sam Johnstone, although such players come at a cost in terms of wages.
He’s got a better win ratio than any Villa manager since 1934, albeit a level below where Villa are used to operating.
There’s no doubt he’s improved on what came before, but the last 10 years set a very low bar for Villa is for and the landscape at the club will look very different in 2018-19 to last season.
If the 57-year-old Geordie survives, it arguably needs to be a different Steve Bruce.
Rebuilding squads for long-lasting progress is not exactly his forté as Sunderland fans, among others, will testify.
If and when the dust settles on this seismic summer, ‘promotion, promotion, promotion’ can’t be the marketing spiel.
Boring as it sounds, it really has to be ‘consolidation, consolidation, consolidation’.
Villa must (genuinely) plan for the next five years and beyond, not the off-chance that they might or might not sneak up next season.
Is Bruce the man to carry that through? Can Bruce, at this stage of his career, use his experience to adapt his philosophies or would a younger, fresher-thinking manager with a track record of bringing through youth and a more aesthetically pleasing way of playing be a better fit?
If it is to be baby steps in the right direction rather than bungee cord leaps forward and back, and surely it has to be, then is Bruce the best man for the job?
Would he want to be? Could Villa pay off his rolling contract if they didn’t want him to? Is compensation for a replacement another cost too far?
There is some sense to the Dean Smith school of thought, but would even a boyhood Villa fan risk their career at a basket case of a club like this right now – and if this job chews up and spits out a manager with Bruce’s miles on the clock, how would a relative rookie from here or abroad cope?
More questions than answers... right now Martin Lewis, of bargainhunting Money Saving Expert fame, would be a better bet for the job than anyone!