When I heard that Steve Bruce was being lined up as the replacement for Ricky Sbragia, a few alarm bells rang in my head. Bruce, being a Newcastle United fan surely couldn’t be Ellis Short and Niall Quinn’s choice as the new Sunderland manager could he? Would Bruce seriously consider near enough ruling himself out of becoming Newcastle manager in the near future by taking the job? How much would Wigan want for a man they paid £3 million for?
Yet, amazingly, it seems as if Bruce has said yes to becoming the new manager at the Stadium of Light after an all day meeting in the Algarve. Short has made no secret of his plans to pump money into Sunderland and Bruce has seemed frustrated in the last few weeks with his sides perceived lack of effort once they’d passed the magic 40 point mark in the Premiership. After the defeat to Stoke City on May 18th, Bruce let go with his frustrations about his players lack of effort and the fact that what could have been.
Losing 3 top players in the last transfer window didn’t help and with rumours flying around about the future of Antonio Valencia, Bruce may have thought he’d had enough of life in Wigan in his second spell with the Latics. There’s no doubt that Bruce is keen to push himself with the challenge of a bigger club, and looking at his career, Sunderland will be the biggest position he’s held since being the manager of Sheffield United. He’s got an ambitious chairman, a squad of underperforming players but the additional carrot of plenty of money to spend in the summer.
Bruce is attempting to follow in the footsteps of a Sunderland legend with his affection towards Newcastle United. Bob Stokoe, the Black Cats manager between 1972 and 1976, is feted by the Mackems for the 1973 FA Cup win and winning promotion to the old First Division in 1976. If he can impose himself early on at Sunderland, it may end up being the most successful spell that Sunderland fans have had in a long time, Peter Reid’s reign excepted.
For the Wigan Athletic Chairman, Dave Whelan, now it looks as if Bruce on the way to Sunderland, needs to avoid the mistake he made once Paul Jewell resigned. By allowing Chris Hutchings to take over as manager, it almost cost the Latics their Premiership status, until Bruce rode to the rescue. Ordinarily, you’d say the obvious choice would be Roberto Martinez, currently winning plaudits with Swansea City and the expansive way they play football.
As the club that fetched Martinez to England originally as one of the “Three Amigos” in 1995, Wigan obviously are close to his heart. The news that Celtic have made an approach for Martinez will have depressed the usually irrepressible Dave Whelan who would have had the Spaniard at the top of his wish list. Martinez may yet turn the opportunity down, but Celtic is a massive job, with European football every season added to the continual battle with Rangers to win trophies. Is it too big a job to turn down, regardless of his emotional attachment to Wigan Athletic?
Whelan needs to make sure the mistakes of 2007 are not repeated but to lose such an excellent manager and potentially his readymade replacement is dreadful luck. His next managerial appointment will be the most important decision that Whelan will make this year. He has to get it right, but he needs a proven Premiership manager or the rising star of the Championship. Candidates like that aren’t exactly are growing on trees and Whelan needs to give the Latics fans reasons for optimism this summer.
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