Newcastle United recently appointed Steve Bruce as their new manager to succeed Rafa Benitez after the Spaniard left the club in the close-season. Bruce, now aged 58, is a Geordie born and bred and Newcastle was his boyhood club, so in many ways it’s a dream come true for him to finally manage them, having been linked with the job on several occasions in the past.
However, it promises to be one of the biggest challenges of his managerial career so far as there is widespread discontent amongst the fans of the club, principally with the way owner Mike Ashley is running it. So Bruce is in at the deep end with the pressure of high expectations from both supporters and board, and inherits a playing staff who were generally considered to be performing at their maximum potential under Benitez.
Is Steve Bruce the right man for the job? Only time will tell, but his previous record suggests that he might well have what it takes to at least maintain the club’s recent trajectory. It’s twenty one years since Bruce’s first managerial appointment and this is his eleventh such job, with ten different clubs, having had two spells at the helm of Wigan Athletic, making him one of the most experienced English managers currently active.
Bruce also comes with the added baggage of being a former manager of Newcastle’s great rivals Sunderland, but that won’t bother him unduly as he has seen both sides of similar rivalries before, having led both Sheffield clubs as well as Birmingham and Aston Villa.
For all its longevity and the number of different posts he has held, Bruce has spent almost the entirety of his managerial career either in the top half of the Championship or the bottom half of the Premier League. That was a status that roughly matched the ambition of most of his previous employers, but Newcastle is a bigger fish and should really be aiming to challenge for Europa League qualification.
It remains to be seen whether Bruce can re-establish them as a top half of the Premier League club, but his tenure hasn’t started well, with a home defeat to Arsenal followed by a 3-1 reversal at newly promoted Norwich City. It’s still early days, as his appointment came late in the summer break, and he hasn’t had much time to make his mark on the squad yet, but it won’t take many more poor results before the press start talking about his first crisis in the role. Hopefully he’ll be given enough time to turn things around as he’s only really failed once in ten previous jobs.
The Path to St James’
Sheffield United: Steve Bruce’s first appointment came in July 1998 as a player manager for the Blades. In his sole season at the helm he led them to 8th in the First Division and then resigned. They finished two places and seven points below the previous season’s tally, so it was a far from spectacular beginning.
Huddersfield Town: Bruce spent 17 months in charge of the Terriers and was sacked in October of a season that ended in their relegation, having finished 10th the season before he took over, and 8th in his full season in charge, so overall the club went backwards under his stewardship.
Wigan Athletic: Bruce had a whirlwind two months in charge of the Latics at the end of the 2000-01 season in which they reached lost in the Second Division play-off semi finals. He was only in charge for 8 games and won 3, drew 2 and lost 3 before resigning to go to Crystal Palace. It was too short a spell in charge to judge as either a success or failure.
Crystal Palace: After one failure and two fairly average performances in his three managerial postings to date, it was really make or break for Bruce at Selhurst Park. Failure here could have spelled the end of his managerial ambitions and left his CV in tatters, but he stepped up to the challenge and won 11 of 18 games in charge over a five month period before resigning to go to Birmingham
Birmingham City: On arrival at St Andrew’s, Steve Bruce’s average stay at a club had been somewhat less than a year, so he was getting a reputation for job hopping. Six years later, all that had changed when he finally moved on to Wigan. He took over with Brum mid table in the First Division and promptly got them promoted. He kept them in the Premier League for 4 seasons before relegation but was promoted again at end of the 2006-07 season and left the Blues in higher a division than when he joined them.
Wigan Athletic: He was only there for a year and a half, but he kept Wigan up in the Premier League and then finished in mid-table the next season to further enhance his reputation.
Sunderland: Bruce spent two and a half years in charge of Sunderland and took over with them having finished 16th in the Premier League the previous season. When he was sacked in November 2011 they were again in 16th place so overall he had a negligible impact on their fortunes.
Hull City: Bruce spent four years in charge at Hull and earned promotion to the Premier League in his first season. He kept them up and reached the FA Cup final, qualifying for the Europa League, but was then relegated the next season, but promoted again via the play-offs the following campaign to leave them in a higher division than when he joined.
Aston Villa: Finished 13th in the Championship in Bruce’s first season in charge, which followed Villa’s relegation from the Premier League. They then lost in the Play-off final the next season and he was sacked after poor form early the following season, having been at the helm for around two years.
Sheffield Wednesday: Bruce took over in mid-season when they were struggling against relegation and guided them to a 12th place finish before leaving for Newcastle in the summer.
Newcastle United: takes over after they finished 13th the previous season under Rafa Benitez.
By my assessment, only one of Bruce’s previous ten roles has been a genuine failure and he has made a success of five out of his last seven, with the other two leaving his clubs in roughly the same state that he found them. His first three jobs were unspectacular, but since cutting his managerial teeth he has developed into a consistent and dependable manager with bags of experience at the top level of English football. He should have what it takes to steer Newcastle clear of relegation worries, but that may ultimately depend on the board giving him the necessary backing in the January transfer window, once he has identified further areas for strengthening his squad.