Football: Bruce ready for long haul to the top

Guy Hodgson talks to the Huddersfield manager who is relishing his new-found financial freedom
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The Independent Online
IF A few have read Sir Alex Ferguson's book and seethed, Steve Bruce can skim through Managing My Life and relax. "His resolution was mingled with warmth and modesty," the Red knight writes, "so he commanded respect and affection in equal measure. He led by example and fully deserved to become the most successful captain in [Manchester] United's history".

A look round Bruce's office at the McAlpine Stadium endorses Ferguson's opinion. With more medals than a successful general, the Huddersfield Town manager has plenty of glory to choose from, but the pictures on the walls would have Lloyd Grossman reflecting that this is a man who does not take himself too seriously.

A goal scored for Norwich City, a cartoon of the United team that claimed the European Cup-Winners' Cup and, most surprisingly, a disc to reflect 400,000 sales of the single "Come On You Reds" make up the gallery. Did he enjoy singing then? "Oh no. It was embarrassing. Totally."

These are not the relics of a braggart. Bruce's playing career also included four championships and three FA Cups but management, who knows? Last season he guided cash-strapped Sheffield United to eighth place, but if he was frustrated enough to resign last summer, the lack of money also provided an excuse. At Huddersfield he has no alibi.

Eight players have been brought into the McAlpine Stadium in the eight weeks Bruce has been in charge, five of them for cash. As he points out, an outlay of pounds 2m hardly compares to what Blackburn Rovers or even Fulham have spent but is still substantially more than he could have spent at Bramall Lane. There is no get-out clause this time.

Sheffield United have reported Huddersfield for allegedly "tapping" Bruce, so he is unwilling to say much although the fact he was not allowed to sign a free transfer player a few weeks into his tenure at Bramall Lane gives an indication of the financial facts of life at his former club. "I'd become tired," he said, explaining why he had left Sheffield. "Not because I couldn't spend any money but because of the politics. I have to be quiet because of the legal position, but I was tired of fighting and arguing behind the scenes.

"After I left them I thought I would put my feet up on a beach for a couple of months with my family, with perhaps some television work, but when Huddersfield came along they were very persuasive. The owner gave me an idea of his ambition and I thought `this looks a good number to me'".

The numbers so far have added up to two wins and a defeat, a record that reinforces his view that the First Division will be hugely competitive. "No team will run away with it like Sunderland did last season," Bruce said. "We're one of 14 clubs who might get where they hope to but I don't think we're quite strong enough yet. Judge me in three years."

Few managers get that luxury and it crossed his mind that his involvement at Sheffield United could have counted against him. "You're judged on your first job," he said, "and if we'd finished eighth bottom instead of eighth top people could have been saying `Steve Bruce can't cut it as a manager'. Yes, it did worry me."

At Huddersfield, backed by Barry Rubery's money, he will have the proverbial level playing field and like a pauper with a windfall he has enjoyed the chance to play the market, bringing in players with Premiership experience like Ken Monkou and Clyde Wijnhard. "The size of the squad wasn't big enough," he said. "Ideally I'd have taken a little bit more time but we were very short in numbers. I had to act straight away.

"The one thing I wanted was a strong spine and for around pounds 2m I've added two centre-halves, a striker and central midfield player. It's nice to be in a position where I can spend some money if I need to."

If he is a success it is not beyond the realms of possibility he could become the successor to Ferguson at Old Trafford, who, interestingly enough, intends to retire in three years. It is a beguiling prospect and one he is not intimidated by. "Everyone would hanker for that job," he said. "I want to go right to the top in management, just as I tried to as a player. I started in the depths with Gillingham and fought my way through. If it became possible I'd like to be in with a shout."

He keeps in regular contact with Old Trafford, not least to follow the progress of his son, Alex - "no, he's not named after you know who" - currently with the club on schoolboy forms. He also speaks to Ferguson and other United old boys Brian Kidd and Bryan Robson most weeks, so the ties are uncut. Intriguingly, he and Robson could be rivals when the great man goes. That is for the future. "I'm a great believer in what will be, will be," he said. "The important thing is what I'm doing now, trying to get Huddersfield promoted and put them on the map a little. They were a big club a lot of years ago and I want to put them there again. The expectation here is enormous. The chairman and the owner are ambitious people and my first priority is to realise those ambitions." Bruce, you suspect, will be more than happy to empty his office of his own pictures and replace them with souvenirs of Huddersfield's successes.