Steve Bruce is facing nine months in the managerial wilderness after Crystal Palace won a temporary High Court injunction yesterday, stopping him from leaving the club without serving his full notice period.
The order, which could have wide-ranging implications for the game, will run until a full three-day hearing on 14 January. Bruce, however, might be prepared to stay on "gardening leave" on full pay until 1 August next year rather than fight the case then. His counsel, Jane Mulcahy, told the judge that this was because of the legal costs involved in going to trial and because Bruce did not want his Crystal Palace colleagues to have to "wash their dirty linen in public" in court.
Yesterday's decision will have significant knock-on effects, not least at Birmingham City. Bruce has already tried to tender his resignation to the Palace chairman, Simon Jordan, in the expectation that he would move to St Andrews. Jordan refused to accept it and Bruce was removed from control of team affairs. Steve Kember, his assistant, and Terry Bullivant, the coach, have been put in cerateker charge.
Birmingham are now understood to be preparing an approach to Bryan Robson to become their new caretaker-manager and eventually Bruce's assistant, once Bruce is clear of his obligations at Palace.
Jordan is holding out for what he considers to be appropriate compensation – around £1m – for Bruce's services. In the meantime Jordan faces a potential legal minefield if he wants to recruit a permanent successor to Bruce. An appointment while the former Manchester United captain is still attached to the club, even on "gardening leave", might constitute constructive dismissal for Bruce, legal experts told The Independent yesterday. If so, Bruce would be free to leave before August.
There was speculation yesterday that Ian Wright might be in the frame for the Selhurst manager's job after the former Palace forward attended the match at Gillingham on Wednesday. However, Jordan insisted: "Ian's a mate, that's it. Ian's an experienced professional and he will be helping out with some work on the training pitch and maybe do some commercial work with us, but he is certainly not a candidate for manager."
Yesterday's ruling throws up intriguing possibilities for the conduct of managers, who may not in future find it so easy to walk away from jobs when more lucrative offers come along. Instead they might be legally forced to honour contracts, a development that is likely to have the qualified support of the League Managers' Association.
The LMA has been dismayed by the number of managers parting company with their clubs this season – Cambridge's John Beck became the 23rd to do so yesterday – but its chief executive, John Barnwell, says that honouring contracts must be "a two-way street". The LMA wants its members protected from the sack but equally expects managers not to try to walk away from contracts without following the correct procedures to the letter.
The judge in yesterday's case, who declared that he was a Wimbledon fan, described Bruce, who earns a basic annual salary of £260,000, as a charismatic "whizz-kid manager", and an "extraordinarily famous person" who had enjoyed a wonderful playing career and then "yanked" Palace from the bottom to the top of the division.
Ruling that there was a case which justified the injunction, he said that it was "staggering" for Bruce's legal team to suggest that Palace would suffer no loss if he went.
Mulcahy, acting for Bruce, said Palace's assertion that Bruce's loss could cost the club millions of pounds of lost promotion prospects was "ludicrous". She added that any loss would be made good by Bruce "or whoever" and that promises given by Bruce not to poach Palace's players or staff safeguarded Palace's position.Reuse content