In a parallel universe, it was Harry Redknapp that took over from Fabio Capello as England manager. Despite not being able to sign Niko Kranjčar, he somehow lead England to glory in the 2014 World Cup. Then he stepped down and handed over the reigns to Steve Bruce, who duly delivered the 2016 Euro Championship. Both men received knighthoods for their sterling work, and became national treasures. In our universe, though, things have worked out very differently for the pair…
Here in this reality, both men are under increasing pressure at their respective clubs. Redknapp surprised many people when he returned to football management not in an off-shore tax haven, but at Birmingham City. But with still no sign of Niko Kranjčar, and five straight defeats, ‘Arry is facing some difficult questions at St Andrew’s. And Bruce was handed the task to return Aston Villa to their former glories of mid-table consolidation in the Premier League. He’s succeeding, too, if you replace the words “Premier League” with the word “Championship”. How did it go so wrong for these one-time kings of the dugout?
The well-used, and slightly xenophobic, answer is this: it’s because of the influx of foreign coaches. Those trendy, hipster Europeans with cool-sounding names like José and Antonio and, erm, Arsène. They came over here, dethroned many English managers, and (extremely South Park voice) they took their jobs! But they went and did their jobs much better. Would Chelsea have become Premier League champions if Ray Wilkins had been managing them? Probably not. Or could THAT invincible Arsenal team of 2003-04 have existed under the stewardship of Bruce Rioch? No chance in hell. Talented European coaches took over because they were just that, talented. For English managers to blame them for their own failings is ludicrously short-sighted.
It’s hard-to-swallow for both men, but the fact of the matter is that Redknapp and Bruce have simply lost their way as managers. Redknapp’s career hit a nose-dive after the FA turned him down for the England job. A disastrous spell at QPR, and a bizarre two-game stint as manger of Jordan (which presumably paid off Harry’s mortgages and gave him free oil for life in the process), indicated that his man-management skills weren’t up to par anymore. And Bruce, despite doing some good things at Hull City, has somewhat lost the plot at Villa. Which is a surprising thing to happen for such a talented author…
— The Set Pieces (@thesetpieces) March 2, 2017
With an already ageing defence, and a lack of goalscorers up front, Bruce spent the last summer signing three defenders over the age of 30, and no new strikers. The marquee signing of John Terry grabbed all the headlines, but Terry was a bit-part player at Chelsea last year for a good reason; he’s just not the commanding centre-back he once was. To attempt to partner him with a lumbering Chris Samba, in a league that’s full of talented attacking teams, is the stuff of madness. Villa shouldn’t be a club facing another mediocre season in the Championship, but under Bruce, that looks like what’ll happen again. And that’s if they’re lucky.
There’s no great joy to be had in seeing old-school managers like these two fall this hard. They’ve both earned respect and success in their long careers, which they can rightly be proud of. But there comes a time when enough is enough. Redknapp needs to stop acting like a clichéd ageing protagonist in a heist movie, by coming out of retirement for “just one last job”. And for Bruce, maybe it’s a good time to get back to the writing. Because the world is eagerly waiting for that next gripping Steve Barnes adventure.