When members of the League Managers’ Association choose their Manager of the Year, they don’t just go for whoever’s won the Premier League but look a little deeper. This year there would be some excellent choices, even if we just look at the top flight. Brendan Rodgers has done a fantastic job at Liverpool, as has Roberto Martinez at Everton, and what Tony Pulis has achieved since taking over Crystal Palace has been near-miraculous.
And after working at the FA Cup semi-final last Sunday for BT Sport I want to highlight the job done by another British manager – and how good it is to be saying that, by the way – in Steve Bruce of Hull City. What Steve’s done there is brilliant. Last year in the Championship I thought they were a hard-to-beat side who ground their way to success and promotion – not that that’s anything to be sniffed at in getting out of that league. But this season Steve has taken it on another step.
He told me his chairman has been brilliant, for all the stick he takes, and he certainly did well in putting up the funds for the signing of two strikers, Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, in January, just when they needed to kick on. Hull have taken the FA Cup seriously right since the start, and now have the reward of their first Cup final.
You’ll understand my loyalty on the day was to Sheffield United, who had their chances and gave it a real good shot. Now they’ll be looking to use the money from the Cup run to bring in one or two for a promotion push from League One next season, because many people were expecting them to be right up there where Wolves have been.
I must hold my hands up about my prediction for the Hull game, when I said that the strength of both teams this season has been the lads at the back and that by half-time we might not have much to talk about. Instead, it turned into one of the best semi-finals for many a year, with eight goals and numerous misses.
When we interviewed Brucey on the pitch afterwards I couldn’t resist saying to him: “How long did it take you to realise that your tactics were rubbish?” He said: “About three minutes!” and we all had a good laugh. What he’d done was play Tom Huddlestone behind the front men in a free role that didn’t work at all – but he had the wit to change the system and Hull got the benefit and the win.
Now they’ll be back for the final, using their experience of Wembley and such a big day, which can only help a team, especially if they’re the underdogs, as Hull will be against Arsenal. You can’t overestimate how much the top clubs are helped by their experience of big games and even little things like familiarity with the ground and the pitch. Going back to my semi-final with Sheffield United against Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003, I remember asking the FA for permission to train on the pitch before the game, because it was all new to my lads, whereas Arsenal had already played Manchester United there twice that season, including the fifth round of the Cup. But the FA turned us down.
Even if you feel, as I do, that Wembley should be kept for the FA Cup final, what I really enjoyed as well as the game was the way the fans from Sheffield and Hull intermingled happily with each other on the way in and out, and then United supporters staying on afterwards to show their appreciation for both teams.
I was in London for the whole weekend and everywhere you went there was red-and-white and yellow-and-black, making it a proud couple of days for Yorkshire. I just hope people weren’t too shocked by London prices and that the Hull fans can afford another trip next month.
It certainly seems wrong to me that –like Arsenal – they should only get 25,000 tickets for the final. I know it’s the FA’s showpiece day and it likes to reward the county associations and local officials who work so hard for the game, but there really should be a minimum of 30,000 for each club, especially for a club like Arsenal, who get twice that number at every home game.
... and Kenny Jackett’s done a great job with Wolves too
As I mentioned, Wolves have made the running in League One and another British manager I’d like to pay tribute to is Kenny Jackett for the work he has done there. Everyone thinks it should be easy to wake up one of these so-called sleeping giants, but there’s always a reason they’ve fallen asleep in the first place.
When they look at it in hindsight Wolves might just find Kenny is as near as you’ll get to Mick McCarthy, who they sacked two years ago when still in the Premier League. Look at all the upheaval since then.
Kenny did a smashing job at Millwall and, with respect to them, he deserved a crack at managing a club the size of Wolves, who I notice took 8,000 to an away game recently at MK Dons. The fans like the fact that Kenny’s brought in a number of young lads who bring with them that energy and enthusiasm you need. Now he’s got the luxury of tying up promotion early and having time to plan properly for next season at a higher level.
My heart condition earned me a theme park reprieve
For most managers at this time of year, every minute of your life seems consumed with the job, thinking about your next opponents, team selection and so on. Your family get put to one side more than ever, so it was a welcome relief for me to spend time sitting, talking and laughing with mine this week for a couple of days at Alton Towers.
It was Amy’s 16th birthday and she and William loved it, though when I see some of the rides there like “Oblivion” and “Mr Smiler” I’m amazed at what the human body can go through.
The best news for me was seeing a notice that anyone with heart problems should stay well clear. I was able to point out I’ve been recalled for a check next week and didn’t want to risk oblivion quite yet.
Brilliant Bale showed Spurs fans what they’re missing
Bearing in mind the occasion, a cup final between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Gareth Bale’s goal this week was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Spurs have signed a lot of players with the £86m fee for him, but I wonder how many supporters would rather they’d kept Gareth and seen him win them a Champions League spot.