Dave Woodhall reflects on Steve Bruce’s sacking as Villa manager.
He’s gone then, and not a moment too soon. And naturally it had to be as a result of a peculiarly Villaesque chain of events. Some managers are the cause of protests, some have abuse and missiles thrown at them. We like to do things a little differently.
The pros and cons of Steve Bruce’s time have been argued out and to be honest, there’s little that can be said in the long run to defend him. He inherited a split dressing room, with the remnants of squads assembled by four different managers and a club that had got used to losing. Roberto di Matteo hadn’t managed to do anything about it and Bruce at least got to grips with the situation. He instilled a winning mentality, particularly at home that, for a while, made me look forward to the match rather than the pre-match pint or three. For that at least, thanks Steve.
Unfortunately, and here’s the problem, that winning mentality was built on the back of signing experienced, expensive players who weren’t going to be here for more than a season. 2017-18 really was a case of now or never and all the last-minute goals and the ability to see out a game without incident just weren’t enough. The most expensive squad the Football League has ever seen was a high-risk failure.
Ultimately, Bruce signed players with no idea of how to play them, picked teams with no idea of tactics and tried to fit too many square pegs into round holes. When he sent out a team to attack, the result was often impressive. But those occasions were rare and there were far too many “one of those days”. I can handle playing well and losing to a soft goal, or the sort of game-changing bad refereeing decision we suffered against Preston, provided there’s not more than one or two of them in a season. One or two a month is just plain unacceptable
Bruce was employed on the back of his record in the Championship, and that was a fair point as at the time the call from supporters was for a manger with Championship experience. The trouble was, the Championship is a fast-changing beast. The game against Sheffield Wednesday was his 100th in charge and as one commentator put it, it was a century “made up of opportune singles and cautionary batting”. Bruce is Geoff Boycott in a league that’s now full of Sachin Tendulkars. He still thinks 200 is a match-winning one-day score while other managers have worked out ways of chasing down 350 as a matter of routine.
Even the one thing that could have saved Bruce’s job and provided him with a genuine reason for not doing well this season, namely the financial problems of the summer, proved the last straw. When NSWE took over, funds were released for new players. We’d lost two central defenders, a goalkeeper and were in desperate need of a left-back. We got two inexperienced keepers, letting another go on loan in the process, and a central defender who Bruce seems to have an allergy to playing in his right position.
He waited until the last minute to sign the other defenders he needed so that when deals broke down he had no chance of bringing in replacements. He signed two wingers to go with the one we had already and stuck all three of them on the bench. As a result of Bruce’s rebuilding the Villa squad wasn’t so much unbalanced as in danger of falling over.
And then, when the inevitable started to happen he began to fall out with the fans, calling his critics the “mad few”. That’s never going to end well, and on Wednesday afternoon, it ended completely. And the seventh managerial appointment in eight years begins. One door shuts, another one opens.