Why Steve got the hump...


The Football League Paper - - ADAM VIRGO -

WAS Steve Bruce right to crit­i­cise Ross McCor­mack so sav­agely in pub­lic? The As­ton Villa boss cer­tainly pulled no punches.

“In my opin­ion Ross is not fit enough to play,,” said Bruce, who re­vealed that the £12m for­ward had missed train­ing “nu­mer­ous times”, the lat­est af­ter claim­ing the elec­tric gates on his house were bro­ken.

He has now or­dered McCor­mack to train with the Un­der-23s and says he won’t play for the first­team again un­til his at­ti­tude im­proves.

Man­agers do hang play­ers out to dry. In a lot of cases, it’s a de­lib­er­ate tac­tic used to make play­ers leave the club.

Gor­don Strachan did it to me at Celtic. I was per­fectly fit but I just wasn’t in his plans. He made me train with the kids, made me come in at dif­fer­ent times of the day.

He an­nounced in front of the whole squad that I was the only one not go­ing on a pre-sea­son tour of Amer­ica. There was noth­ing to stop him telling me on the way home, but it was his way of mak­ing me feel like s***. It worked too – I left.

But Steve Bruce is prob­a­bly one of the best man-man­agers out there. He’s been in the busi­ness for al­most two decades and I’ve never heard one story about him os­tracis­ing play­ers or mak­ing them train with the kids.

I heard a story from his time at Sun­der­land when two or three of the play­ers com­plained that the ho­tel wasn’t up to scratch.

Most man­agers would have told them to get on with it but Steve looked at their rooms, agreed they weren’t good enough and per­son­ally booked them an­other ho­tel.

He looks af­ter his play­ers, and that kind of thing is why so few peo­ple have a bad word to say about him. For him to take such dras­tic ac­tion, I can only as­sume he’s com­pletely lost re­spect for Ross.

On the one hand, that’s about pro­fes­sion­al­ism, about stay­ing fit. I don’t know Ross per­son­ally but you can see from his physique that he’s not a nat­u­ral ath­lete. I was ex­actly the same.


At Celtic, I re­mem­ber a player called Steven Pearson. Skinny as a rake, noth­ing on him. He’d go to Ve­gas on his hol­i­days, eat and drink all sum­mer, not do a step of run­ning and come back in pre­sea­son six pounds lighter.

I’d be eat­ing like a rab­bit, break­ing my neck to keep fit and I’d step on the scales a pound over­weight.

Some peo­ple al­ways have to bat­tle against their ge­netic makeup and, un­for­tu­nately, I think Ross is that kind of player.

Nev­er­the­less, when you’re on an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of money you shouldn’t be un­fit in Jan­uary – re­gard­less of your body shape or lack of game time. Match fit­ness, maybe. Gen­eral fit­ness, no ex­cuse.

That will have an­gered Steve but not as much as the sto­ries. That is the fundamental prob­lem. There are things that go on be­hind closed doors that we don’t know about and Ross may have per­sonal prob­lems. But don’t go mak­ing up silly sto­ries about gates.

I’ve been in these sit­u­a­tions be­fore, par­tic­u­larly at Bris­tol Rovers where play­ers would come up with fee­ble ex­cuses. Ev­ery­body knew they were just hung over from the night be­fore.

The man­ager was an ex­player, he wasn’t born yes­ter­day. It’s like a pupil ly­ing to an old teacher – they’ve heard ev­ery ex­cuse un­der the sun and it an­noys them to be treated so dis­re­spect­fully.

But if you sit down and say ‘Look gaffer, I’ve got an is­sue, I’ve prob­lems with my wife, I’m strug­gling with an ad­dic­tion’, then all of a sud­den the pic­ture changes.

The man­ager will tell the play­ers and you’ll be given time and un­der­stand­ing. The club will try to keep things out of the pub­lic eye.

By re­sort­ing to silly ex­cuses, you break the bonds or trust that are cru­cial be­tween player and man­ager and they are so hard to get back.

That said, I’d never say never. In­juries and sus­pen­sions could give a route back. If the fit­ness coach says ‘Oh, Ross came in this af­ter­noon on his day off and did a bit of ex­tra work’ the man­ager will take no­tice. But if Steve doesn’t get that kind of re­ac­tion, it’s prob­a­bly game over for Ross at Villa Park.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

UN­DER-FIRE: As­ton Villa’s Ross McCor­mack

FU­RI­OUS: Steve Bruce

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