Tim Rich: Once the fans turn it's over
When the vitriol pours down from the terraces, there is no way back. Bruce has gone, and Kean will be dragged down next
Thursday 01 December 2011
"Master Venables, there are two ways this job will end; they will build a statue to you or they will set fire to your car." So was Terry Venables introduced to the realities of managing Barcelona.
Steve Bruce drives a Mercedes and last night it pulled away from the Stadium of Light for the last time. At his final meeting with Ellis Short, the club's American owner, he could have offered much in his defence. Had the Sunderland board accepted his advice to pay Darren Bent the additional £20,000-a-week he was demanding and Aston Villa were offering, he might have kept the England striker and he might have clung on to his job.
The £24m Bruce received for Bent was never spent. The summer investment that took 10 players to Wearside came from the sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool. Bruce had taken Sunderland to 10th place, he had balanced the books and unlike Roy Keane, some of whose players celebrated his exit with a party, he had not lost his dressing room. Unlike Keane, he could be relied on to turn up for training.
He had, however, lost the supporters and lost them comprehensively. The mood on Saturday night was vicious and had Sunderland lost at Wolverhampton at the weekend, his car would have been at risk.
Bruce's Tyneside roots and his background as a Newcastle fan appeared a great point of weakness. It mattered little that he had never appeared for the club or that Sunderland's most celebrated manager, Bob Stokoe, had played for Newcastle in the 1955 FA Cup final.
When on Saturday the cries of "You fat Geordie bastard, get out of our club," began ricocheting around the Stadium of Light as Sunderland slipped to a barely comprehensible defeat to Wigan, it appeared that prophesy had been fulfilled.
However, it is not his background but the fact that he had won three home games in the calendar year that condemned him and once the reclusive, ruthless Short had persuaded Niall Quinn to leave his post as chairman, Bruce suddenly found himself staring at a colder, harder boardroom. Short, who came to Wearside to see the Wigan debacle, did not mention Bruce once by name in his programme notes.
Bruce could do nothing about his birthplace or the team he grew up supporting and nor could he do anything about Newcastle United's results. Very few at St James's Park expected them to be challenging for the Champions League but when they did, it was imperative for Sunderland's morale that they started winning. It was particularly imperative that they started winning the Tyne-Wear derby, something they had managed only once at home since 1980. Bruce not only failed to improve on that record, he oversaw the cataclysmic 5-1 defeat at St James' Park that will be found engraved deep in his heart.
Quinn thought Bruce should have stopped obsessing about the derbies – but at a club that has not played in Europe since 1973, they cast a giant, unforgiving shadow.
For a manager to lose the terraces completely, there needs to be a point of weakness allied to some dreadful results. Sunderland's managers are certainly the highest profile and often the highest-paid member of the community. When it was revealed to a region whose pits and shipyards were being ripped away that Lawrie McMenemy, who was taking Sunderland towards the old Third Division, was the highest-paid manager in the country, his feelings became secondary. He was torn to shreds. Steve Kean will understand the feeling.
Kean, until he was banned for drink driving, runs a Mercedes and you trust his is comprehensively insured. When Blackburn played Stoke on Saturday, the chants for his dismissal began after 12 seconds. For their encounter with Swansea at Ewood Park on Saturday, organised demonstrations will start 30 minutes before kick-off and finish well after the final whistle. Sooner or later, like Bruce, he will be dragged down.
Kean seems to have coped better than Bruce, who is said to be hurt and somewhat bewildered. After the dramatic 3-3 draw at Wigan, the Blackburn manager appeared to march over to the away end and almost invite a confrontation.
Kean is an intelligent man, who learnt Portuguese during his time with Coimbra, and yet his public statements hover between those of Walter Mitty and David Brent, with a dash of Richard Nixon.
On Monday, he thought Blackburn could not only overcome Cardiff but win the Carling Cup. On Tuesday night, having been thoroughly outplayed by the Welsh side, he claimed that he decided to "forfeit" the match to concentrate on the upcoming games with Swansea and Sunderland.
The impact that statement would have on the Cardiff manager, Malky Mackay, can be imagined. The impact it had on the 800 who travelled from Blackburn to south Wales can be measured on the website of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, where it drew more than 200 comments, all of them poisonous.
What has condemned Bruce and kept Kean alive on a drip feed has been the complete absence of any recognisable management structure at Ewood Park. Sunderland have a list of credible candidates to replace Bruce that includes Martin O'Neill, whose love for the club was nurtured when he listened as a boy to radio broadcasts featuring his idol, Charlie Hurley.
There appears to be nobody running Blackburn Rovers from Ewood Park, where senior managers were astonished to find that Kean had been given a new contract with a pay rise.
Both Blackburn Council and one of the club's major sponsors, the WEC Group, have contacted Blackburn over a "lack of leadership", which is shorthand for a lack of individuals outside India who are able to make an effective decision.
Should his contract be terminated, the odds are that Kean will never work in football management again, which may be why he is fighting harder and more publicly than Bruce, whose record and closeness to the circle surrounding Sir Alex Ferguson will ensure that Sunderland is not his farewell.
There is an element of Macbeth in the way Kean took over from his boss, Sam Allardyce, and there are many who wonder how complicit he was in his downfall or what his exact relationship is with the owners, Venky's, or why he dismissed his assistant, John Jensen.
The two managers no longer speak and Allardyce has many powerful friends, Ferguson chief among them. Usually a struggling manager can expect a few words of comfort from his counterpart but after Saturday's 3-1 debacle at Stoke all Kean received from Tony Pulis, who in Ferguson's eyes is definitely "one of us", was a curt statement that he had better get used to the vitriol. Ferguson will already be preparing his condemnation of Sunderland and their supporters.
Kean: I did not give up on cup quarter-final
Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean last night apologised for suggesting that his side had "forfeited" their Carling Cup quarter-final with Cardiff City, a remark which left fans who travelled to South Wales demanding their money back.
Kean had said on Tuesday night: "We forfeited our chance in this competition to get to a cup final and we must treat Swansea like a cup final."
Kean has become deeply unpopular with his persistent claims that Rovers, who are bottom of the table, warrant a position among the top 10.
"I refute suggestions that we did not treat the game with respect," Kean said. "I've never, ever given up on a game. To suggest that we would deliberately forfeit a game would of course be wrong."
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