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Steve Bruce: I hope Man Utd give Erik ten Hag a chance

15 May | BY Betway Insider | MIN READ TIME |
Steve Bruce: I hope Man Utd give Erik ten Hag a chance

In our exclusive interview, the highly respected ex-player and manager gives his thoughts on his former clubs and provides a career update.

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What was your view of Manchester United’s performance against Arsenal?

It was an upgrade from the Crystal Palace game, thankfully. I think there had to be a response with the amount of problems from last week, and they got one. It was always going to be a big ask to think that they could turn Arsenal over, but I have to say the injuries, especially defensively, and then the loss of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, all of a sudden left them down to the bare bones.

They did as well as what I expected them to do. I never thought Arsenal were troubled at any point during the game, and United did OK under the circumstances. But let’s be honest, it was hard work watching it all, wasn’t it?

Arsenal were comfortable without really having to play well. For the Gunners, it’s all about now getting the job done. It’s not about how you play or how you look and all the rest of it. It is getting the job done and I think they’ve done that. They’ve done it very well and were never in any real danger.

What exactly has gone wrong at Old Trafford this season?

I know every club seems to have had injury problems this year. But I’ve never seen any side so depleted so constantly as United this year. Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martínez have practically missed all season and I think now it’s been 14 different partners in the heart of the defence.

They want to attack, they want to play good football, they want to score goals. That’s the way the club’s history is, but if you haven’t got a sound platform at the back and in midfield then what chance have you got?

You need your midfield players to protect them more than what they’re doing. But defensively, I have to say, it’s been a struggle all season for them. I can sympathise with the manager. He’s probably never picked what he thinks is his best team. I’m sure that they are investigating that as to why they’ve picked up so many injuries and, and how often they’ve picked them up.

What has impressed you most about Arsenal?

I have to say the two centre-backs look very, very good. They’re an excellent team. Fair play to Arsenal. It is difficult for me to say, but you have to take your hat off. Hats off to the board as well because the manager was under pressure two years ago. They stayed with Arteta and he made some big decisions early on, Aubameyang, for one.

It’s great to see him doing so well and to take it to the last week. Who knows? Anything can happen. Personally, I doubt it, but it’s great that it’s going to go down to the last game of the season.

What are your predictions for the FA Cup final?

Hopefully we’ll see a game like the Coventry v Manchester United semi-final! I remember taking Hull to the FA Cup final against Arsenal ten years ago. I know it’s always ifs and buts, but we had an outstanding chance. In a one-off FA Cup final, anything can happen. We know that Man Utd can perform. I have to say, they need their big players fit. They must be fit. I know they’ve only got a few weeks and it’s still going to be very difficult to come out on top against Manchester City. But it’s a cup final so they’re capable of winning a one-off game, that’s for sure.

Are you surprised it has taken United so long to recover from the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson?

Did anybody think that it was going to be 20 years before Liverpool were going to win after the 80s when they were so invincible? All Sir Alex Ferguson talked about was knocking them off the perch. It was his aim to knock out the great team that Liverpool had. Who would have thought it would have taken 20 years?

How long is it since Arsenal have now won the Premier League? 20 years. All of a sudden a decade has gone, United have had some big managers and they haven’t been able to win it. They’ve been close and have still won a trophy but you still think there’s a lot of work to be done to back to where they were, winning leagues. You just have to look at the league table. How many points are they behind? It’s a colossal amount so a lot of work has to be done.

David Beckham has backed Erik ten Hag to succeed at United, do you agree?

I do agree. It’d be interesting to see if they can have a good summer of recruitment, which is always key. Can they have a good close season and bring two, three or four top players in to start the platform?

If you keep changing managers, you have to start all over again. They’ve had Van Gaal, Mourinho, Rangnick, Moyes, Most of them are at the top end of management. You know it’s going to be a difficult job for whoever has it, and you’ve got to be a bit patient. If it’s going to be Ten Hag, which I hope it is, then get behind him. Recruit well and give the guy a chance.

You signed Harry Maguire for Hull back in 2014 – what was it about him as a player that you liked at the time?

My chief scout at the time, Stan Ternant, said to me: “I’ve just seen an interesting player play for Sheffield United. This kid is good in both boxes.” He told me he’s 21, he’s played 150 times for Sheffield United, he’s the captain, he won Player of the Year three years on the spin.

He said “I believe the kid’s got something,” so we went to watch him and I was a little bit worried when I first saw him, because of his mobility. However, we decided that we were going to take him and he was only 20 or 21, so he could only get better. Ironically, it was when I left that Harry took off. We were in the Premier League at the time. I had Michael Dawson from Spurs. It was a learning curve for him. But I have to say, once he went into the team and then went on to Leicester, he did fantastically well.

I’ve got nothing but praise for Harry. For me, he’s been the scapegoat for too long, but you understand when he’s not there how much you miss him. He’s resilient. He’s got something about him. He’s never let England down and, for me, he’s never let Manchester United down either.

I hope he recovers and plays in the FA Cup final and obviously goes to play for England in the Euros. For me, him and John Stones are arguably England’s best centre back pairing. Even after his injury issues, Harry’s still right up there with any of them.

What areas of the squad do the United need to recruit in?

The reason why Sir Alex brought me to Manchester United was my ability to play every week. Unfortunately, when they’ve had something like 14 different defensive line-ups, you need to find a bit of stability there. Of course, you always associated United playing a certain way and to have some flair. I think they’re desperately in need of a bit of legs in midfield for me. Bruno has been an outstanding player for United over the last four years, but he can’t do it on his own.

Ebere Eze and Michael Olise at Crystal Palace have been linked. Would they add some style?

Ironically, I tried to take the two of them to Newcastle and they both decided that they wanted to stay in London. Every day the back pages are full of who they’re going to sign. I hope they get that department right. I think the moves that they’re making upstairs can only help. Certainly with the likes of Dan Ashworth, they will. When you say young, English, good players in the Premier League, they’re the ones that Man Utd thrived on, that they’ve always done well with. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re going to try and buy from the Premier League, because at least then you know what you’re going to get.

Would it ultimately be a good season if they beat City to win the FA Cup?

Well, this is where it is. They were in a cup final last year and missed out, but they have still got the capability of winning something. There’s only four things to play for, so to win an FA Cup, if they did it, then great, they’ve won a trophy. But if you’re a Man Utd fan then competing at the top end is what you really want.

Jadon Sancho has seen success since leaving United, reaching the Champions League final with Dortmund. Do you see a way back for him at United?

I would doubt it if the manager’s going to stay. I think he’s made his stance on it clear. When you let somebody out the door, unless there’s a coming together with the pair of them then that’s that. But they didn’t seem to be able to fix it when the kid was at United, for whatever reason. He’s gone away to Dortmund and got to a Champions League final, so fair play to him. He’s played very, very well by all accounts. It’s fair to say also that we didn’t see the best of him at United for one reason or another. There seems to be a personality clash between him and the manager. And rightly so, the manager should always win.

Two of your former teams are in this season’s play-offs, what are your predictions for Norwich and West Brom’s second leg ties?

Usually the play-offs are the big spectacle! So maybe we’ll wait for the second leg. I watched a large chunk of the West Brom v Southampton game. How that ended up 0-0, I’ll never know. There were some big chances at both ends and the goalkeepers played really, really well on the day. The other one was a bit of a non-event.

You would think now with home advantage, it’s advantage Leeds United and Southampton, which is a bit disappointing for me but on home soil you need to go and win. You can never call the play-offs, but you probably put your money on the home sides now.

If it is Leeds United v Southampton at Wembley, who wins?

On the day it’s anybody’s game because the Championship is that. They’ve both been outstanding and you’d think Leeds, with the amount of points they got, can count themselves very unlucky that they haven’t gone up.

If West Brom don’t get promoted, do you think it will be hard for them to keep hold of Carlos Corberán?

That’s for him obviously to decide. It’s a very, very good club, West Brom now have new ownership behind them. It’s a big game for them both on the second leg and for Carlos as well.

What were your initial reactions to Birmingham’s relegation? Will they bounce back straight away from League One?

I spent ten years of my career at Birmingham. It was nearly seven as a manager and two as a player. I’ve got a huge affinity for Birmingham and I’m absolutely saddened that they’re in League One, especially with new ownership and the club desperately needing it. Unfortunately, the decisions that they’ve made haven’t worked. So it’s back to the drawing board.

I think they’ve got terrific owners who look as if they’re in for the long run, which is vitally important. Bounce back and dust yourself down. Surely they’re too good to be in League One, but we know that you can get trapped in there as well, so they’ve got a big job ahead. I’m devastated for everybody connected with the club. Their results are the first I look for.

Newcastle are reportedly open to selling one of their key players this summer. Could you see Bruno Guimaraes or Alexander Isak leaving the club?

I don’t think they’ll want to sell one of the better players, however, to generate the sort of money you just don’t know. Who does know? That’s the way the rumours have it. Both players are excellent and a huge part of what they’re looking to do. You want to hold on to your best players.

What does the club possibly having to sell this summer tell us?

Well, it shows you how difficult it is now with financial fair play. Arguably, they say they’re the richest club in the world and can’t spend it otherwise. You’ve got to stick to the rules and you know what happens if you don’t. We’ve seen that this year, so they might have to sell.

How do you reflect on your time at Newcastle? Do you have any regrets?

Well, it was difficult. They’re in a different era now. My aim at Newcastle was a bit like a promoted club on a restricted budget. We had to stay in the Premier League, which is always difficult. So in that respect, I’m pleased that we did. For me, it enabled the takeover to go ahead and I’m supremely indebted to being given the opportunity.

I managed Newcastle for two-and-a-half years and in the pandemic, so we didn’t have a crowd for a good year or whatever. It was under difficult circumstances. It’s a fantastic club and as I said, I feel as if it’s been a privilege to have managed it, being a lad from the North East.

Have you got plans to return to football in the future?

I would love to do something. It’s the first time I’ve had a year off and there’s no doubt at all I miss it on a Saturday. Whether I can get back in, in some capacity, I’d love to try and help a young manager. I would love to help an owner or maybe even help a CEO. I would just like to be back involved in football if I could, because it’s in you – it’s been in me for the past 45 years, and I hope for maybe one more crack.

Betway Insider

Betway Insider

The Insider is an editorial blog for Betway, one of the best betting sites, featuring sporting insight, intelligent comment and informed betting tips for football betting and all other major sports.

Betway Insider

Betway Insider

The Insider is an editorial blog for Betway, one of the best betting sites, featuring sporting insight, intelligent comment and informed betting tips for football betting and all other major sports.