Bruce's powers of persuasion keep Melchiot a Blue

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The Independent Football

The qualities needed to make a mark as a centre-half are self-evident, and Steve Bruce possessed them in abundance. Now the broken-nosed hero of Manchester United and assorted other teams has added to his portfolio of skills the art of charm and persuasion, and the immediate consequence is that Birmingham City, the club he manages with burgeoning success, have added five top-class players to their roster during the summer, as well as retaining two of last season's key personnel who might have walked until Bruce and his chat technique went to work.

Emile Heskey, Muzzy Izzet, Julian Gray, Jesper Gronkjaer and Mario Melchiot have come on board, top scorer Mikael Forssell will spend another loan season at St Andrews after all and Robbie Savage, poised for Everton it seemed, has instead signed a new contract with the smooth-talking Steve.

Melchiot, the Dutch right-back who spent five years at Chelsea, typifies the sort of star snaffled by Bruce and still giving the impression he is not quite sure how it happened. "I was ready for something fresh, but I'm not going to lie about it, I didn't think it was going to be Birmingham," Melchiot said as he prepared to fly to Germany today for a week of pre-season matches with his new club.

Melchiot, only too aware of the way things were working out at Chelsea, had prepared for the end of his contract at Stamford Bridge by having his agent sound out interested clubs, most of them, it seems, in sunny places like Spain and Italy. Then Bruce got in on the act.

It started towards the end of last season, with a phone call asking the Dutchman if he fancied playing for Birmingham. "I said I had had a lot of offers and didn't want to rush things," said Melchiot. "So he told me to take my time." While he was taking his time, Bruce was lining up his man. "He rang my agent to say I was number one on his list, he really wanted me," said Melchiot. "I went on holiday and sat looking at the various offers, taking my time like he said. But he kept ringing and ringing.

"From our first conversation he had shown the passion and effort he was putting into signing me. But I needed one more conversation with him, face to face. And when I did, everything clicked, it made me feel unbelievable. As a player you need somebody who gives you belief, because that's what you take into a game and into your training and wake up with every day.

"His reputation as a player definitely helped in my decision. I am only 27 and still think I can learn a lot. It makes it easier to learn from a former player like that. He impressed me with his thinking and his way of putting things across. And he kept chasing me. For someone like that to keep chasing you, any player would feel flattered.

"Look, I realise it's not Chelsea and I'm not going to compare the two clubs. I will always give Chelsea respect because I had a great five years there, so there is nothing bad to say about them. But now I am playing for Birmingham and don't want to think about Chelsea any more, except to say that what I achieved at Chelsea I also want to achieve here. If I get here the love and respect I got there, then I know I am on a good thing.

"This club give me the same feeling as when I arrived at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea was more glamorous than Birmingham but they too came along slowly before everything kicked off. That's what they are doing here. They have brought in five so-called quality players to influence a team that already did well last year. If we can produce in the same way as was done at Chelsea, we can get very far."

As far as Europe, perhaps? Why not, says Melchiot. "Champions' League is something a bit too far right now, that's dreaming, but the Uefa Cup is something realistic and achievable. We were close to it last season. Now the pressure will be on me. I have already done well elsewhere, so people will watch me with a different eye, a more critical eye. But that's a good feeling, because it means I have to be on top of my game every time."

The diamond in the ear lobe and stylish clothes indicate Melchiot's love of life, but Birmingham is where he will base himself rather than his favourite city, London. "The manager said to me he didn't mind if I was sometimes in London, but I am a footballer and don't need to worry about the good life in London. I don't want to live in a corner where nothing is happening, but as long as I am happy on the pitch, everything around me will be sunshine."

Towards the end of his time with Chelsea, there was sometimes a lack of that sunshine as the Abramovich revolution brought an influx of big names. "I want to play all the time and at the start of last season it was hard, but I fought back, you just get your head down and work hard. Towards the end of the season I was playing in almost every game."

Too much competition for places in Chelsea's team could be negative, Melchiot thinks. "If you play 10 games and then don't play for five games it can be harmful. That is what is killing some of them at Chelsea because it brings your quality down." Not at Birmingham, though. Steve Bruce and his way with words will see to that.