Arrogance? Naivety? The chummy nice guy who just talks without thinking? Or a petty, vindictive man unable to rest until he settles scores with all those slighting him?
Whatever lies behind it, one thing is for sure. Every time Steve Bruce opens his mouth at a press conference he only makes things worse. And every time you think he can’t make it any worse, he goes and raises the bar.
To start with, it was just vacuous clichés. Roll your sleeves up, get a reaction, work harder on the training ground. A refusal to engage with the detailed analysis of modern management and a preference for hiding behind the meaningless platitudes that were enough thirty years ago.
Then, it was the contradictions. Success would be to push into the top ten; success was staying up and protecting Ashley’s investment. We’re not in a relegation battle, unless we’re in the bottom three, and even then only maybe. Until it turned out, five days later, that half the league was in a relegation battle. The man who never quits, except for the five times he did.
And since then things have unravelled at an alarming rate. It’s starting to feel like a desperate man lashing out at everyone and anyone, refusing to accept where the responsibility lies. Flinging out words in the hope they land and find a target. Much like his formations and team selections.
Surely, he couldn’t be throwing the players under the bus, calling them shite and accusing them of tying his hands in tactics?Surely, he must have noticed that the best managers never criticise their players in public, not least his old boss Ferguson? That felt like a line was being crossed.
And now he’s crossed another line. It turns out the gloves coming off meant bare-knuckled toe-to-toe with us, the people who’ll still be here when he’s long gone. The people who are powerless to intervene. The people who care more than he ever will.
How else to interpret his sly playground dig at ‘the mighty Rafa’? The needy insecure response of a man who knows he’s not up to it. As if this little man’s ego is what this is all about.
For what it’s worth, I really don’t think Steve Bruce is arrogant or malicious. And I can’t imagine the pressure that comes with that job and the relentless scrutiny it brings. But I do think we’re witnessing a man coming apart in front of our eyes. Someone who, by his own admission, has never really been respected or rated as a player or a manager. Someone who has had to fight to prove people wrong all his life. The sense of inferiority, and the defensive tone-deaf response it prompts, are there for all to see.
He can’t admit he’s wrong because that would bring down the fragile structure that his entire self-image is built on. It takes confidence to acknowledge mistakes and address difficult realities.
But do us a favour, Steve. Tell yourself what you have to so you can look in the mirror in the morning. But leave us out of it. We’ve had enough.
MATTHEW PHILPOTTS – @Mjp19731