Alan Biggs' Sheffield Wednesday Column: The Steve Bruce/Newcastle saga is a royal mess... the manager has chucked away as much goodwill as was possible to have - and don't rule out THIS left-field choice to succeed him
Where to start at Sheffield Wednesday after a tumultuous week? Ideally a new manager. And quickly.
Because Steve Bruce was history at Hillsborough well before he was announced as Newcastle United manager, pending a possible legal challenge. What a mess.
Chris Hughton? You couldn’t see a better, more handily available candidate. The Owls evidently made a swift sounding-out and didn’t get the initial answer they wanted. Keep trying, I’d say.
Bruce? Yes, it’s football. But not the way even this ruthless industry should be. Manager forces move without backward glance at 30,000 people who had taken him to their hearts. Colludes with new club owned by one of the most disreputable people in the game. Then resigns. I simply can’t abide or understand it.
Okay, it’s sort of happened before, will again. Remember the partial parallel with Ron Atkinson’s distant defection for Aston Villa - and that notwithstanding Big Ron is a Hillsborough hero to this day. Newcastle has a pull for Bruce, that part you can appreciate.
But this manager, less than six months in, had achieved nothing compared to Atkinson’s promotion and League Cup triumph after fashioning the best Owls side of modern times.
It’s the saddest of divorces from what was a veritable love-in between Bruce and Wednesday fans. Well, maybe only the second part of that. And in reality, not a sudden split.
Supporters are entitled to feel sore and betrayed. It’s not so much Bruce heading for Newcastle as the way it’s been done.
The abiding impression is that he courted the Geordies as much as they pursued him. And I don’t buy that it only developed during 48 hours of tumbling odds last week.
As a process, it’s been distasteful, heartless and wrong; as if Bruce, rather than his new club, was driving the move - or being coerced to.
You accept that private talks will have taken place behind the parties. That’s the way of the world and it was also the way when he was lured to Hillsborough.
What should then have happened is for Newcastle to have made the formal club-to-club approach that apparently wasn’t forthcoming based on Wednesday’s repeated denials. Instead, it appeared to be left to Bruce to broker his own move by requesting permission for talks (which in reality had already taken place).
If Bruce needed any proof of the way Mike Ashley runs things at St. James’ Park then surely this was it - with Toon fans in open revolt against the controversial owner and in opposition to this appointment.
I’ve known Steve a long time, an open and engaging character who I like as well as respect. Having spoken out in sympathy for the personal trauma that delayed his start at S6 and also battled the social media hordes of his former club on his behalf, I can understand why so many people are feeling let down.
Surely even Bruce must have a tinge of regret about how all this looks after the limitless personal support and allowances given by Wednesday and their supporters during his long drawn out arrival.
Frankly, he has chucked away as much goodwill and backing as it’s possible for any manager to have in 2019.
While a club of Wednesday’s size will always carry high expectations, Owls followers would have supported him through even a moderate season in the justified belief that he was still the man long-term. You simply can’t buy that sort of faith and patience.
Bruce has cashed in potential Hillsborough legend status for the likely role of being Ashley’s latest stooge.
And I feel sorry for Owls chairman Dejphon Chansiri, who was entirely justified in demanding the maximum possible compensation for the untimely loss of his manager and two coaches. And who will always take a point of principle over any amount of cash.
However, where Wednesday’s owner should take heed - although it was NOT the defining factor here - is that managers of experience demand hands-on influence over signing AND selling, so they can wheel and deal.
The noises around Hillsborough suggest Bruce felt powerless to shift players out of the club, as per suggestions of Lucas Joao asking for a transfer over a reported £8m price tag, which seems ludicrous in a depressed market. This is a recurring theme and something the Owls have to get right in future to prevent further embargo threats now that the financial furniture has been rearranged.
Beyond Hughton at this stage, I don’t think Chansiri will - or should - go too deeply down the list of available “usual suspects.” Unless Slavisa Jokanovic could be tempted. Otherwise, maybe someone like Wigan’s Paul Cook, who has moved up the leagues playing an attractive brand of football, could be attainable?
But you can’t rule out trusty coach Lee Bullen, the caretaker who turned last season around, leading the Owls into the new season - with the possibility of a real run at the job this time, especially in these fraught circumstances over Bruce and the contractual compensation issues.
Bullen’s football mentality and style is not dissimilar to Bruce’s. He has also been unfailingly loyal.