The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By John Wragg

ETCHED into the win­dow be­hind Steve Bruce’s desk in his train­ing ground of­fice is an As­ton Villa mo­tif in claret and blue.

It’s like the stained glass win­dow of a church. Bruce’s task is to get every­one on the same hymn sheet af­ter years of bruis­ing, dam­ag­ing de­cline.

“There would be a statue out­side if I repli­cated here what I did at Hull City,” says Bruce, point­ing be­hind him out of the win­dow.

At Hull, he twice got them into the Premier League, the FA Cup fi­nal and into Europa League foot­ball. They were the best times in the club’s his­tory.

Bruce joked as we walked into the of­fice – with plush, tac­tics board on the wall set to 4-4-2, big desk, big chair and a quiet corner with set­tee and chairs, where we sit – that you won’t find per­sonal bits and pieces.

“I didn’t put any up,” he smiled. “I didn’t know how long I’d be here.”

Villa have got through seven man­agers in eight years. They are on their sec­ond owner since Doug El­lis sold up and their third chief ex­ec­u­tive.

Noth­ing has been solid or de­pend­able, since Randy Lerner de­cided he didn’t want to be in foot­ball any more and pulled the fi­nan­cial plug in 2010.

Martin O’Neill left but, amaz­ingly, the fans didn’t. Through all the sea­sons that have turned from grey to the black of de­spair, they have stayed.


Bruce has sorted out a shed load of rub­bish play­ers, brought in ex­pe­ri­ence with John Terry, Glenn Whe­lan and Chris Samba – the lat­ter two both aged 33 – and knows he has to get As­ton Villa back into the Premier League this sea­son.

“I'd love to be sign­ing 26-yearolds. Peo­ple are say­ing we’re Dad’s Army. But play­ers are £15m to sign and for­tunes in wages. We have had to be a bit shrewd,” says Bruce.

The quest be­gan yes­ter­day, iron­i­cally against Hull, the club he gave what Villa want.

If Bruce is not up there punch­ing Villa’s weight at the top of the Cham­pi­onship into the New Year, he will find out if owner Dr Tony Xia is a pa­tient man.

“It was a mess here,” says Bruce bluntly. “For a big club like this, with the his­tory and tra­di­tion, it was hover­ing around rel­e­ga­tion and it was in­evitable it was go­ing to hap­pen.

“I could say the same about Sun­der­land. If you are down and around the bot­tom for three or four years, then it be­comes in­evitable you fall out of it.

“It all starts at the top. If you get di­rec­tion, it fil­ters down to the grounds­man, every­one.

“Thank­fully, I think we have some sta­bil­ity. The owner is des­per­ate to do well. He calls the shots. There isn’t a big board of di­rec­tors.

“I don’t know if he’s a pa­tient man. I guess I’ll find out. How­ever, he un­der­stood, when buy­ing it, that it needed re­pair.”

Xia backed Bruce when he brought Terry to the club, a move that is seen as some­thing of a coup and is meant to repli­cate what Bruce did when, as a player at the end of a dis­tin­guished ca­reer at Manch­ester United, he moved to Birm­ing­ham City for his au­tumn years.

“I’m not as good look­ing as John Terry, but I like to think we are sim­i­lar in what I did at Blues and what John is bring­ing to us,” says Bruce.

Bruce has eight ma­jor medals from his play­ing ca­reer with United. Terry has 15 from Chelsea.

Bruce was 36, Terry is 36. Both were cen­tre-halves, both cap­tains, both lead­ers of their teams. The sim­i­lar­i­ties stack up. “All John Terry wanted to fo­cus on this year was an­other sea­son of play­ing and pro­mo­tion,” said Bruce. “He could have got more money in China, but the thought of up­root­ing his fam­ily didn’t ap­peal at all.

“I hon­estly think it is about the ‘pull’ of Villa. I said to him, ‘If we get on a roll…’

“We played Bur­ton Al­bion on Box­ing Day last sea­son when we were 15th in the Cham­pi­onship and there were 42,000 in the sta­dium. What does that tell you?.


“He hasn’t come here to mess about. That’s not him. That’s not why he’s here. That’s not his make-up.

“It’s the way John is. Every­thing about him. It’s just what he brings in terms of pres­ence. The way he trains, the way he pre­pares, the way he looks af­ter him­self.”

Bruce spent two years at

Birm­ing­ham un­der man­ager Trevor Fran­cis and helped get the club out of its medi­ocre rut be­fore re­turn­ing as boss. He then led Blues to one of their best spells of the mod­ern era, with two pro­mo­tions to the Premier League and a num­ber of qual­ity sign­ings. If Terry wants to take Bruce’s path to man­age­ment, it would be nice to do it, to do it nice. “When I first got into man­age­ment, some­one said to me, ‘Get some­one along­side you with grey hair’,” re­calls Bruce. “Some­one with that ex­pe­ri­ence to let you know what’s im­por­tant and what’s not. John Ben­son, God rest his soul, did that for me.

“If that’s the next step for John, then me, with my grey hair, can help. If he wants to take his coach­ing badges or have a spell with the Un­der-23s, then that door is open to him.”

Xia is a man who likes equa­tions. He posts them on Twit­ter for fans to work out, some­thing not known as a hobby on the Holte End.

But there is noth­ing to fig­ure out about this sea­son: Bruce has got to get Villa up.

There have long been plans for a Premier League 2.

Well, now we have it. Evo­lu­tion has brought to the Cham­pi­onship some of the big clubs in Eng­land, As­ton Villa, Leeds, Sun­der­land, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day and the neigh­bours, Derby, Not­ting­ham For­est and Wolves. Not to men­tion the twiceyearly fierce propo­si­tion of Birm­ing­ham. It’s a hard league to work in and noone, but no-one, can pre­dict who is go­ing to be at the top end of the ta­ble.

Villa are one of the new­est big names in there and, ar­guably, the sex­i­est. It brings its own pres­sures.

“I’m aware that we are As­ton Villa. We have to do bet­ter, par­tic­u­larly away from home. There were times last sea­son, away from Villa Park, when we were pa­thetic,” as­sesses Bruce, again very bluntly.

“There's still a job to be done. But I do be­lieve I have the nu­cleus. I do be­lieve the group is bet­ter, the squad is bet­ter than when I came last Oc­to­ber and hope­fully we will mount a chal­lenge. I’ve been 20 years get­ting here, my big­gest club in man­age­ment. I’m not go­ing to mess it up.


“I’ve not had much to do with the owner. Ev­ery time he comes over (from China) we have a cup of tea and a chat. He’s been very sup­port­ive.

“I would say pick a man­ager you trust and even­tu­ally they will get it right. The Fer­gies, the Wengers, all of th­ese – even my time down the road at Birm­ing­ham. I had al­most seven years there.

“The sup­port­ers at Villa have been fan­tas­tic with me.

They know this isn’t an easy job, but the one thing I will do is give them a team that will mir­ror them, a hard­work­ing team that cares.

“The fans want to see ef­fort and graft and, hope­fully, sprin­kle a bit of star-dust on to it.”

Who will be Villa’s ri­vals this term?

“Mid­dles­brough, hav­ing come down, are hav­ing a good go at it. They have in­vested some money,” he said.

“There are some big clubs who have spent big. Down the road at Wolves, for in­stance. They have spent £15m on a player (Ruben Neves). I mean, ‘wow’.

“But you can't pre­dict what's go­ing to hap­pen in the Cham­pi­onship.”

RE­PAIRS: Dr Tony Xia

TESTED: Glenn Whe­lan

EX­PE­RI­ENCE: Chris Samba

TO CLARET FROM BLUE: John Terry in ac­tion against Wat­ford for new club Villa

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