Bruce: Lead­ing a team out at the Cup fi­nal beats United tro­phies

Ahead of the trip to Spurs, the Aston Villa man­ager tells Luke Ed­wards why he is a huge fan of the FA Cup

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - SPORT -

It has been a strange year for Steve Bruce. Hav­ing taken months to make the heartwrench­ing de­ci­sion to quit Hull City, he ad­mits he needed a few hours to get over the dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing out on the Eng­land job, but only a few sec­onds to de­cide he wanted to re­build Aston Villa af­ter rel­e­ga­tion.

The joy of pro­mo­tion at Hull was short-lived. The ex­hil­a­ra­tion of beat­ing Sh­effield Wed­nes­day in the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal at Wembley last May was al­most im­me­di­ately over­taken by con­flict with the club’s own­ers, the Al­lams, over a lack of trans­fers funds and the sad re­al­i­sa­tion he could no longer work for them.

In the mid­dle of it all, came a call from the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, an in­ter­view for the big­gest job in the coun­try, fol­lowed by the news he had lost out to his close friend Sam Al­lardyce in the race to be­come Eng­land man­ager.

For the first time in 40 years, Bruce started the sea­son out of work, watch­ing from his hol­i­day home in Por­tu­gal. He em­barked on a strict fit­ness regime, drink­ing and eat­ing less, ex­er­cis­ing more. He shed sev­eral stone, but then Villa ap­proached him.

To­day, he takes his re­ju­ve­nated team to face Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup. It is the type of clash he is con­fi­dent he can make reg­u­lar again.

“I would have taken the Aston Villa job even if they were in League One. They are that sort of club,” said Bruce.

“I would have taken their call no mat­ter what di­vi­sion they were in. It is steeped in tra­di­tion, his­tory, it’s a spe­cial club for any­one who un­der­stands English foot­ball.

“There is a lot of work to do. We have a big chal­lenge ahead, but it didn’t take any think­ing about. When the job came up, I wanted it. It has a huge fan base and that is the true mea­sure of a big club for me, be­cause with that sort of fol­low­ing comes the ex­pec­ta­tion. That is what I wanted.

“The diet has stopped. I had a few pints and fish and chips for my tea last night, that’s what the job does to you, but I wanted that pres­sure again.

“It is a club that has had some tough times. It’s been a dif­fi­cult few years, but it’s got a new owner [Tony Xia] and he wants to take Aston Villa a long way. He’s in­cred­i­bly am­bi­tious and it’s about draw­ing a line and for­get­ting about what has hap­pened in the past.

“The im­me­di­ate chal­lenge is to get out of the Cham­pi­onship. I’m un­der no il­lu­sions, it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. I know bet­ter than most how tough this the Premier League, a lot of hard work and sweat. There was some­thing nag­ging at me. It felt like the time to leave the party. The club was up for sale, there was in­sta­bil­ity from the top and it fil­ters down. If the re­la­tion­ship with the owner or the chief ex­ec­u­tive isn’t right, it harms the club. The job is hard enough with­out that. I’m wor­ried about them. I still look out for them – 90 per cent of the play­ers there, I brought them to Hull, so I still care what hap­pens. But they have an up­hill bat­tle.

“The hard­est thing was spend­ing the first day of the sea­son out of work. It was the first time in 40 years I had done that, I found that ridicu­lously dif­fi­cult, much harder than los­ing weight.”

The newly slim­line Bruce left Hull with his rep­u­ta­tion more than just in­tact. He did not get the Eng­land job, but at the age of 56, his time might come again. Af­ter all, Al­lardyce did not get it the first time he was in­ter­viewed ei­ther.

“It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,” Bruce said. “OK, I didn’t get it, but I can al­ways say I was in­ter­viewed. I wish I wasn’t so close in some ways, be­cause you have that dis­ap­point­ment when you don’t get it, but it was nice to do be thought of. It was nice for it to be recog­nised that I could have done the job.

“It’s the pin­na­cle. I’m English and that’s the big­gest job out there. No­body would have been prouder if I had got it. Could it still hap­pen? Who knows what hap­pens in the fu­ture? I wish Gareth South­gate all the best, we have to get be­hind him. Look, we might not all get on, but ev­ery man­ager knows how tough and lonely this job can be, and no job is tougher than the Eng­land one.”

For now, Bruce is con­cen­trat­ing to­tally on Villa, and although pro­mo­tion is the pri­or­ity, he will never take the FA Cup lightly.

“Of all the things I did at Hull, tak­ing them to the FA Cup fi­nal [in 2014, when they lost 3-2 to Ar­se­nal] was the most in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “It beat all the pro­mo­tions, even win­ning tro­phies with Manch­ester United, lead­ing the team out at Wembley as a man­ager, noth­ing com­pares to that.

“For me, the FA Cup re­mains one of the great sport­ing oc­ca­sions. Along with Wim­ble­don, the Grand Na­tional, the Bri­tish Open, the Derby, the Grand Prix, the FA Cup fi­nal, when you get there, you re­alise how great it is.

“We couldn’t have asked for a tougher draw. It’s a great Cup tie. Tot­ten­ham are my favourite second side at the mo­ment.

“I’m a huge ad­mirer of [Mauricio] Po­chet­tino. They are com­pet­ing at the top of the ta­ble with five or six English lads in the team and they play some fan­tas­tic foot­ball with a young side, full of life.

“They’ll go close to win­ning the ti­tle this sea­son again, but I hope it’s one of those FA Cup days where we pull off a shock.”

‘I would have taken the Aston Villa job even if they were in League One. They are that sort of club’

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