Stale Premiership Limits Bruce's Next Step

Rob StatonCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

SUNDERLAND, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 3: Steve Bruce, newly appointed manager of Sunderland AFC, smiles during a press conference as he is announced as the club's new manager, June 3, 2009 in Sunderland,  England. (Photo by Barry Pells/Getty Images)

Steve Bruce says Sunderland can help him take the next step.

"I've worked over 10 years for a chance like this."

So what actually constitutes an improvement on the 11th placed finish he achieved with Wigan this year?

Finishing in the top half of the table?

A cup run?

As a player, Bruce became accustomed to winning things. He captained Manchester United to the first Premiership title in 1993 and claimed a clean sweep of domestic trophies.

To hear such a figure talking about the potential limited achievements with his new club just about sums up the state of English (and European) football in the 21st century.


The simple fact is, teams like Sunderland are competing for the scraps.

The dominance of the big four (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool) remains stronger than ever.

Their monopoly on the Champions League places sees the rich get richer and ultimately better on the field—casting aside most of the Premiership who merely have to satisfy themselves with existence in the so-called "World's best league."

Sunderland supporters will cling to Bruce's touting of a possible domestic trophy success—something not achieved since the '70s.

But since the Premiership began in 1992, only TWO teams outside of the 'big four' have lifted the F.A. Cup—Everton in 1994 and Portsmouth in 2008.

The league cup is a more realistic achievement, yet of the last four winners only one team (Tottenham, 2008) have gatecrashed the elite status quo.

Any challenges to the top four and a Champions League place usually fizzle out long before the season's close.

So when Bruce talks about "taking the next step" in his career, what does it actually mean?

He quotes the 42,000 fans that attend the Stadium of Light regularly despite flirtations with relegation and the hope of a bright future with fresh investment.

Clearly that is something Bruce hasn't had the luxury of at Wigan.

The Latics struggled to sell out their JJB Stadium even for an important home game against Manchester United.

They are likely to lose the talented South American imports such as Antonio Valencia that Bruce brought to the club on a shoe string budget.

He'll have the chance to sign (and keep) the players he can attract to Sunderland, building a team that can at the very least remain in the Premiership with some comfort.

The brutal reality is that such security is a marked improvement on the conditions he endured with Wigan.

Rather than winning trophies, the next step for Bruce is simply joining a club with greater foundations.

The fact still remains though, that this is a limited next step.

Perhaps the best he can hope for, is to emulate the achievements of another British manager punching above his weight.

Since David Moyes took over at Everton in 2002 they've qualified for the Champions League, made an F.A. Cup final and regularly qualified for what is now referred to as the "Europa League."

Such success has seen Moyes touted as a potential replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, a job Bruce will no doubt lust over.

He has the platform now, at the very least, to mimic Moyes' and Everton's achievements with a possible "means to an end" by eventually taking a top job with one of the "big four"—preferably Manchester United.

However, a word of caution for Bruce.

The last North East club that boasted fantastic support, new investment and a supposed bright future are now looking forward to away days at Scunthorpe and Blackpool.

Maybe Premiership mid-table obscurity isn't so stale after all?


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