Steve Bruce’s early success at Hull City a triumph of personality rather than strategy

Michael Holden
steve bruce 300x225 Steve Bruces early success at Hull City a triumph of personality rather than strategy

Hull City manager Steve Bruce

When Steve Bruce was sacked by Sunderland just over a year ago, it was natural to wonder whether his managerial career would ever be the same again. As demises go, his on Wearside was as unceremonious as one could imagine.

As the Black Cats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against bottom-of-the-table Wigan in front of a livid Stadium of Light crowd, Bruce slipped sheepishly down the tunnel to chants of “You fat Geordie b******, get out of our club!”

It was the last thing he’d hear from them, but worse was to follow. The obituaries that greeted his dismissal days later painted the picture of a man completely out of touch with the modern game, an old-timer unwilling to embrace anything that he didn’t learn from Sir Alex Ferguson.

In his first few weeks at Sunderland, Bruce was asked by a local reporter whether he would consider experimenting with a Christmas Tree formation. “I’m not really into tactics,” came the response. It was greeted by quizzical looks and, two years on, nobody was really sure whether he meant it or not.

Therefore, it’s ironic that Bruce should be blazing a trail in the Championship with a revolutionary 3-5-2 system that is setting Hull apart from the rest of the division. The Tigers are currently fourth in the table with 38 points from 21 games. Only leaders Cardiff have won more matches.

So has Bruce turned over a new leaf, or was he just having a laugh at everyone else’s expense all along? Truth be told, it’s still hard to tell. What he did do was make a bold decision in the summer, based on the personnel he inherited and it’s worked a treat. For that, he deserves enormous credit.

However, the suspicion remains that Bruce’s early success at the KC Stadium is a triumph of personality rather than strategy. The players are playing for an esteemed figure, a man who has captained Manchester United and managed for most of the past ten years at Premier League level. And, evidently, Bruce is doing nothing to shatter the impression that his words are those of real wisdom.

In such scenarios, it’s hard to fail. Owning the dressing room is half the battle for any manager and it’s eye-opening how many Hull players have gone public with their preference of 3-5-2 over 4-4-2, saying how much the system suits them personally. Now ask yourself, would the response over such a fundamental issue be so wholehearted for a promising rookie plucked from League Two?

Either way, we can only praise Bruce for bouncing back the way he has when his career looked set to be treading the same path as former colleague Bryan Robson. No matter where on the scale between blind luck and shrewd judgement his 3-5-2 system falls, there’s a lot be said for doing things differently and opposing managers have been queueing up to tell us how a game against Hull has got them scratching their heads.

The Tigers have been one of the most adventurous teams in the Chmapionship this season – a fact illustrated by only two draws – and they deserve to be where they are. But the caveat comes in the form of familiarity. As they go round the course second time around, opponents will have prior experience to call upon and the 3-5-2 might not be nearly as effective.

Only then, perhaps, will we find out whether Bruce has what it takes to manage in the Premier League again.

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  • Mr Frost

    Er, revolutionary 3-5-2 system? Watford have been playing the same system all year under Zola. And are one place lower than Hull.

  • timbazo

    Is this ‘revolutionary’ system that used extensively in the UK in the 90s: 3 centre-backs plus 2 wing-backs, 3 central midfielders plus 2 strikers. The strength of the system is that the team packs the midfield while still having two strikers. The weakness is that huge physical demands are placed on the wing-backs in terms of running back and forward. Unless they are rotated, expect them to tire as the season progresses. This will slow attacks as they are slow to advance when the team has the ball. Being slow to get back will leave gaps behind the wing-backs in wide positions.

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