Steve Bruce has been known in footballing circles for almost 40 years now as a player for his time with Norwich City and Manchester United where as Captain he lifted various trophies and of course his career in management. As a manager he has been employed for a variety of clubs to the point where he now manages Aston Villa as of 2017.
Steve took over the role of Aston Villa Manager in November 2016 with the team vanquishing in the bottom half of the Championship following their relegation from the Premiership in May 2016 and already there has been a steady improvement in both the results and the hope around Villa Park.
However as those of us with longer memories will know Steve had a wonderful 20 year playing career with trophies galore and caps for the England under 23 team and the England international B team (in the days when such a team existed) although he never bizarrely received a full international cap.
Steve was born on 31st December 1960 and initially played over 200 games for Gillingham which was a long way from his roots in the very north of England in County Durham. He initially started out as a midfielder but was put into central defence in Gillingham’s reserve team where in his first season with the club he was the reserve’s top scorer (remember at centre back!) with a phenomenal 18 goals. He made his first team debut in August 1979 against Luton Town and went on to win Gillingham’s Player of the Year in May 1980.
Unfortunately he broke his leg with a dreadful tackle on Tommy Tynan in a match against Newport County in April 1983 and was out injured for almost seven months but he recovered enough by 1984 to play a part in two fabulous draws against the then mighty Everton. These two games bought him into the spotlight of the teams in the main two divisions and it was just a question of time and whom he’d go on to sign for.
He went on to Norwich City where he helped the East Anglian side to the league Cup in 1985 after only playing one season for the club. To be honest he didn’t start his playing career in the most auspicious of starts for Norwich City scoring an own goal in the very first minute of his debut against Liverpool. Beat that Lionel Messi! However by the end of the season he was Norwich City Player of the Year and was named man of the match in the April 1985 League Cup Final. For Norwich a small club with limited finances this was a remarkable achievement for a club outside of the usual top 6 and cemented Bruce’s role as a pivotal central defender.
Sir Alex Ferguson was impressed enough to take Steve to Old Trafford in December 1987 for a fee believed to be £825,000 where he had a prestigious career with Manchester United winning everything from the European Cup Winners Cup, the Premier League, the FA Cup and again winning the League Cup for a second football team.
Strangely Steve never played for England at full international level much like other talented players such as Liverpool’s Jimmy Case although he did win a solitary B international cap against Malta’s international first team where he was made Captain. Many thought that one of the reasons was that Bruce always looked slightly overweight and would not be suitable for the pace of many international players but he was to prove them wrong winning a truckload of trophies particularly after Ferguson had signed Middleborough’s Gary Pallister in 1989 to accompany Bruce in the centre of the United defence. By this time Bruce was 29 but their partnership was rock solid in the middle of the United back four as at long last United won the main league in this case the first ever Premier League in 1992/93 with both Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce receiving the trophy. This was as much to do with usual Captain Robson out for half the season with an array of injuries and stand in Captain Bruce leading the Red Devils to major success. This was the first league title for United since 1967.
The following season saw Bruce as Captain of United and the first man in the 20th Century to win the title again and the FA Cup as well in the same season earning Manchester United the coveted English double.
After being dropped for the following season’s FA Cup Final for Manchester United allegedly due to a slight injury Bruce left United at the age of 35 for pastures new but he was dogged by injuries the following season playing for new club Birmingham City where he had been signed by Trevor Francis. Various offers came in again for Bruce and he was offered the player managers job at Sheffield United but only played 11 matches before finishing as a player at the tail end of 1998 following a game against Sunderland ironically as this was one of the teams that as a youngster in his local area, the Black Cats had turned him down as a player in 1978.
All in all as a player he made a whopping 926 professional appearances and scored a very credible 113 goals – not bad as a stalwart at the heart of defence in most cases.
In fact in 1990/91 Bruce played 50 matches in total for the reds across all competitions and scored a mind boggling 19 goals. He always appeared very much like John Terry 20 years later to just pop up for free kicks and corners and cause turmoil for opposing defences either scoring himself or helping with assists for the Reds and you’d never want to mark the man for an opposition’s corner kick!
Since his first Manager’s job with Sheffield United from 1998 bar a few months off here and there, Steve has been an almost ever present as a manager in the top two English leagues but his playing career is more than worth putting into perspective here.