Following relegation from the Premier League, the vast majority of Hull City fans stayed behind after the 0-0 draw with Manchester United to applaud their efforts despite a long and disappointing season for the club. Louis van Gaal described it as a sight he had never before seen in European football, and praised the Tigers faithful. Even during his most testing period as Hull City manager, over the winter months when the club were in horrific form and plagued by injuries, the support for Bruce was unerring. A banner reading ‘In Bruce We Trust’ was put up at the KC Stadium, and it was fitting support for a man who most regard as the club’s greatest ever manager.
Promotion, survival, FA Cup final and European qualification all ensure that Steve Bruce has great respect in East Yorkshire and has given him time that most would not have been given in the modern game, following a miserable last 18 months in terms of results. The case for Steve Bruce remaining Hull City manager and the case for him departing the role are equally strong and plentiful. Aside from his track record at the club, Bruce has always had a tremendous record in the second tier, and should the club part companies with Bruce, they will not find a man with a better success rate in the Championship. He is also a markedly honest man. He is not a man without his failings but he admits and acknowledges them when they are identified. For this reason, as well as his success, he has developed an affinity with the clubs fans.
Given all that is written above, it is easy to see why Steve Bruce has kept his job despite a season in which most would not have lasted. It is also worth noting that Bruce forked out £42 million in the transfer window, although the figure was closer to £20 million in terms of net spend, it is still a considerable outlay for a club of Hull’s size. Furthermore, due to what I have said, I would not begrudge Bruce another season, or at least another six months, to prove his worth and take the club back to the Premier League. Deep down though, one feels as though both parties may be better off parting ways this summer.
Bruce has had a very successful career, on and off the pitch, he most certainly does not need the money and his wife supposedly thinks he is ready to have more leisure time, away from the stress and demands of football management. Looking at the man, she may have a point. Recently he has not looked a picture of health, and one wonders whether he would be better off leaving the game, despite only being 54 years of age. As for the club, they recently released Liam Rosenior, and whilst the focus from supporters and the media has been on his emotional attachment to the club, his departure also signaled major tactical repercussions.
Rosenior is as good a full-back as you are likely to find in the Championship, and him leaving suggests that the Hull City manager is remaining loyal to his 3-5-2 approach. The formation worked in Bruce’s first two seasons. Robbie Brady and Ahmed Elmohamady were tailor-made for the wing-back positions, whilst a back three made the team defensively solid and allowed Bruce to play with his favoured two strikers. This season though, Bruce recruited the likes of Hatem Ben-Arfa, Gaston Ramirez, Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass. Unlike in previous years, the players were no longer best suited to the 3-5-2 formation, yet Bruce persisted with it.
In the Championship, even after losing the likes of Dame N’Doye, Abel Hernandez, Nikica Jelavic and others, Hull City should have one of, if not the best, squad in the division. These talented forward players should no longer be hamstrung in a conservative formation against weaker opponents. Rosenior’s release signals a worrying persistence from Bruce. Any potential new manager would inherit a gifted group of players, at that level, and should they be freed up and allowed to play their football, Hull City could flourish and return to the Premier League.
They say there is no room for sentiment in football, and perhaps they are right; but it is difficult not to with Steve Bruce. The man has done a great deal for Hull City and has always had the club’s best interests at heart. Unless the club is sold or Bruce leaves of his own accord, he will remain as manager, as the Allams have great faith in the man they appointed three years ago. I sincerely hope, not just as a Hull City fan, but also for Bruce himself, that he can turn things around, but I cannot help but feel he will persist with a negative formation which restricts the talented individuals that he himself brought to the club.