New Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce faces his first match in charge this Saturday, just two days away. That’s not a lot of time, so rather than trying to predict what tactics he may go with against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Villa Park this weekend, I’ve taken a look at how his time in B6 might go from a long-term perspective. He was signed on a five-year contract, after all.
So, let’s start with his background. Born in Corbridge, the 55-year-old enjoyed a successful playing career as a central defender, including nine years (and 308 appearances) with Manchester United and two with Birmingham City.
Bruce left Birmingham at the end of the 1997-98 season to take over Sheffield United as a player-manager. He only played 10 times for the Blades but stayed on as boss through the end of the campaign. United finished eighth in the old First Division (today it’s known as the Championship). Bruce resigned, citing a lack of transfer funds, and would take over at Huddersfield Town just a week later on 24 May 1999.
Bruce lasted 511 days at Huddersfield. The Terriers didn’t win promotion to the Premier League in his first season, and he was sacked in October of 2000. He then went to Wigan Athletic for the first of two (so far) stints with the club, and this one lasted less than three months.
Wigan reached the promotion play-offs in the Second Division (League 1) under his guidance, but didn’t go up. After the season ended, he took over at Crystal Palace. With Bruce in charge, the Eagles won 10 of 15 matches, resigning in November of 2001 to return to Birmingham, this time to manage the Blues.
Prior to taking over as Birmingham City boss, Bruce had developed a reputation as someone who doesn’t stay in a job for very long. And rightly so — Bruce spent a grand total of just 1072 days at four different clubs, an average of 268 days (or .73 years) each.
However, that all changed as Bruce remained in Birmingham for more than double that duration (2168 days). It was a tumultuous spell on the wrong side of England’s Second City for Bruce; there were two promotions and one relegation.
Bruce actually got Birmingham City to finish above Aston Villa for the first time in more than 30 years in the 2002-03 season. But, during the 2007-08 campaign, he ran into difficulties with the board and quit to take the Wigan job. The Latics paid £3 million in compensation for him, which was the world-record for a manager at the time.
He spent a year and a half at Wigan, then moved on to Sunderland for two, managing both clubs in the Premier League. Most recently, Bruce was at Hull City, coaching the club for four years. In his first season (2012-13), the Tigers finished second in the Championship, securing automatic promotion. Season number two was unspectacular, albeit solid, as Hull ended the Premier League in 16th, but featured a FA Cup run, culminating in a loss to Arsenal in the final (sound familiar?) despite Bruce’s team taking a two-goal lead within eight minutes of the opening kickoff.
Hull suffered relegation the next year, but came back up straight away. This summer, Bruce resigned from his post after a lack of transfer activity.
Now Bruce returns to Birmingham for the third time, taking over as Villa gaffer. He’s managed 138 Championship matches in his career: 74 wins, 26 draws and 38 losses. That averages out to 1.79 points per match.
There are three real questions following Bruce’s appointment: “Is he good enough?”, “Can he get Villa promoted?” and “Was he the best choice?” I’ll attempt to answer the second one first.
As it’s the middle of the season, most teams happen to have managers. Therefore, they’re reluctant to let them go, even if compensation could be bankrolled by Dr. Tony. So, let’s rule out poaching a boss from another Championship side.
There aren’t many managers trying to get back into the game that don’t have jobs at this point, either. Louis van Gaal or Roberto Mancini aren’t going to take the Villa job, and do we want Steve McClaren? I don’t think so. Bruce was a solid choice (best option that was reasonably available), and here’s why.
Over the course of his managing career, Bruce has averaged 1.79 points per match in the Championship. Aston Villa have 35 games remaining this season, extrapolating that rate gets us 62.65 more points for total of 72.65. Last year, Sheffield Wednesday finished in 6th with 74 points. Judging by the table below, it’s going to be reeeeally close, should Bruce stay the course.
Can Villa get promoted?
Obviously the matches are played on the pitch, not on paper. But, with the squad Bruce has at his disposal, it’s not too late for the Claret and Blues to turn it around. Automatic promotion may not be on the cards, but Bruce has successfully navigated the playoffs twice in as many attempts. That bodes well for the position that Aston Villa may find themselves in next May, should Bruce get off to a hot start and implement a winning mentality. For Villa to go up, Bruce needs to outperform his career average.
In conclusion, I would say that Steve Bruce - at the moment - is more than “good enough” for Aston Villa. His 1.12 points per match in the Premier League isn’t sexy, but take 40 points in a season and you aren’t going down. Plus, objective number one is getting *back* to the Premier League. One step at a time.