FootballPremier League

Duncan Alexander: Brucie Bonus

October 23, 2021January 7th, 2022

FOOTBALL continues to serve up firsts and rarities. This week Steve Bruce left his job as Newcastle manager shortly after completing his 1000th game as a boss. Given humanity’s love of the decimal system it seems an incredibly unusual point to depart. It goes without saying that the abuse Bruce received during his time as manager is abhorrent, yet the idea, hinted at in some places, that managers should never be constructively criticised is also not the way to go. There are few fanbases who can’t accurately sense when their club’s manager is not up to scratch or has let previous standards slide. Generally, decision makers at clubs lag behind the fans. Occasionally, as with the switch from Nigel Adkins to Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, the club hierarchy is ahead of the curve, but the wisdom of (football) crowds is a decent barometer in most cases.

Steve Bruce has been a near constant figure in English football for five decades. The best centre-half to never win an international cap? Maybe, certainly the central defender with one of the best goalscoring records, including that epic 19 goal haul for Manchester United in the 1990-91 season. As a manager he has specialised in saddling local divides, and has taken charge of both Newcastle and Sunderland, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham and Aston Villa. Geographically brave, if nothing else.

It should be stressed that Bruce is not a bad manager; no-one could reach four figures for games in their managerial career without some level of capability. Bruce can get your club out of the Championship, and not in the bad way. But a record of 1.12 points per game across his Premier League career (476 games) means he is, or was, only ever going to be a survivalist. The manager he’s beaten most often in the Premier League is cut from similar cloth: Big Sam Allardyce, Bruce defeating him seven times. In fact, the seven managers Bruce has tasted victory against most often in the Premier League are all British. The pass completion may have been so-so but the red wine was excellent.



Statistically, Bruce performed best in the Premier League at Wigan, where he won 32% of his games, compared to 28% at Birmingham, 28% at Sunderland, 27% at Newcastle and 24% at Hull. As some people have correctly pointed out this week, win percentage is not a flawless way of judging managers but it is interesting when a manager hits very similar numbers at a variety of clubs. We saw it with Roy Hodgson in his Premier League career, where a consistent win percentage in the low 30s was ideal for the likes of West Brom and Fulham but simply nowhere near good enough for Blackburn (when they were good) and Liverpool. Newcastle fans, and you can understand why, do not want their manager having a slightly lower win percentage than he did at Sunderland.

Bruce isn’t top of the experienced managers with the biggest defeat percentage, that honour goes to another former Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, but he is second. And yes, that’s the nature of the managerial game, and yes, all of these people are far far better football managers than you and and I. And yes, Steve Bruce has written one more book than me and three more than you, but the point stands: we are still allowed to assess how a manager has done in his time at a club. Just don’t be horrible when you do it. 



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