OVER THE OUR KIDS
transfer troubles, he is also grateful to be in a position to buy players at all.
This time last year the Tigers were beaten FA Cup finalists preparing for Europe and a second season in the top flight. Today, after a season beset by bad luck and internal strife, they are back in the second tier.
Bruce adeptly puts relegation into context. “I think 47 teams have been in the Premier League over the last 23 years,” says Bruce, who collected three winners’ medals with United. “Only eight have stayed there from day one. That tells you the scale of the task.”
Yet he is also wise enough to know that the penalty for failure is usually a P45.“I offered to fall on my sword,” he admits. “I said to the chairman (Assem Allam) ‘If you want me to go, I’ll go’. But he wanted me to stay and rebuild, just as I did last time.
“Then, the big thing for me was, did I still have the enthusiasm for it? Out of respect for everybody at the club, I had to be honest with myself about that. And when it came down to it, I realised I did.
“Yes, last season was hard. Mistakes were made. But at the same time, you have to consider the circumstances.
“As an example of the problems we faced, we had Mo Diame playing on Tuesday for the first time in seven months.
“We paid £8m for Robert Snodgrass last year, our big summer signing and record transfer fee. He dislocated his knee 22 minutes into the first game of the season and still isn’t back.
“We had the personal problems with Jake Livermore.We lost Michael Dawson for a significant period.We lost all our big players for more than half a season. We battled manfully. But unfortunately a club of our size just couldn’t cope at the end. “That’s what the Premier League is. You can be as manful as you like, but you live or die by quality. That was always our problem.”
But not the only one. While Hull toiled on the pitch, 76-year-old Allam spent much of the season attempting to change the cub’s name to Hull Tigers, a move resented by fans and twice blocked by the Football Association.
Allam – once loved by the KC faithful – has now become a figure of derision and has refused to attend home games until his demands are met. Did it have an impact?
“Who knows?” says Bruce, who is understandably cagey on the subject. “But as I’ve always said, when’s there’s stability at the top of a football club, success usually follows.
“You look at the big, successful clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United – and at the top, they’re rock solid.
“What’s sad is that what should have been the happiest year of our lives, reaching an FA Cup final and qualifying for Europe, was overshadowed by the name change. But was it a factor? I ain’t so sure. I can’t use that as an excuse.”
And nor will he look for any this season, with an instant return to the top flight almost certainly a necessity for the Tigers.
“I understand that,” says Bruce, who this week added Scotland midfielder Shaun Maloney, from Chicago Fire, to a squad already bolstered by ex-Newcastle midfielder Ryan Taylor, £3m Brentford winger Moses Odubajo and £1.3m Chesterfield striker Sam Clucas.
“When you’ve been in football as long as I have, you know the game. The way people are now, the silly season will probably start in September. I’m sure there’ll be five or six managers gone.
“But everyone is after the money in the Premier League and when you see a newly-promoted club like Bristol agreeing a fee north of £8m for a centre-forward, you realise the level of competition you’re facing.
“It’ll be tough, but I genuinely believe our squad – when fit – is as strong as anything. I just hope we can keep it together.” And maybe pick up a bargain centre-half? “Not for £70,000!” he laughs. “Those days are long gone.”
HEADING OFF: Tom Huddlestone’s release clause will attract suitors LATEST SIGNING: Scotland midfielder Shaun Maloney has joined Hull from Chicago Fire