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Dublin: 1°C Friday 23 April 2021

David Meyler: Bruce is an incredible man-manager who makes you want to run through a brick wall

This week, our columnist talks about his former boss before making predictions for the FA Cup third round.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce.
Image: Michael Regan

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler has joined The42 as our new football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action, alongside the latest William Hill prices. 

In his latest piece, he talks about the influence Steve Bruce had on his playing career ahead of the FA Cup third round weekend. 

Meyler WH banner

Arsenal v Newcastle, 5.30pm Saturday

Roy Keane was the manager who signed me for Sunderland, but it was his former Manchester United team-mate Steve Bruce who gave me my first opportunity at the club. 

Soon after taking over in the summer of 2009, Steve arranged for the squad to travel to Portugal for a pre-season camp and I was included.

When you’re a young kid, you’re constantly trying to climb the ladder to ultimately play regularly with the first team, so the trip felt like a big step in the right direction.

I remember my dad speaking to me before I left and saying ‘This is your moment to impress the new manager’.

Having held my own — particularly in the fitness drills — I caught a bad tackle in a five-a-side and twisted my ankle. There was no malice in the challenge, but it meant I was out for three weeks and that doubled when I then sustained something similar to my other ankle.

However, I received feedback that the manager had been impressed with my work ethic and that drove me to push myself even harder. 

A behind-closed-doors friendly with Doncaster Rovers was organised and one of their players, Martin Woods, left a bit on our right-back, so I cleaned him after he took a heavy touch minutes later. 

A heated exchanged ensued and the referee asked that I be substituted. Steve walked on to the middle of the pitch, put his arm around me and told me to go for a 10-minute run and head for the showers.

Everything was racing through my mind at that point as I was thinking the manager has just dragged me off. 

David Billingsley, who is now at Man United, was Sunderland’s physio at the time. He would later play a massive part in me going on to have the career I had — helping me regain my fitness from two serious cruciate ligament injuries. 

Dave came in and told me the manager loved what he saw. The quote was ‘It’s hard to put the fight into someone, but you can calm the fight in them’.

From then on, I started training with the first team more regularly and although I had to wait quite a while, my debut came against Blackburn Rovers on 28 December 2009.

Steve is an incredible man-manager who makes fellas want to run through a brick wall for him. I was certainly one of those.

There were often times when he would do or say little things to support me along the way, particularly during those difficult periods when I was on the long road back from one of my knee surgeries. 

soccer-barclays-premier-league-blackburn-rovers-v-sunderland-ewood-park Making my Sunderland debut in December 2009. Source: PA

In November 2012, we were reunited when he rang me up and asked if I’d be interested in joining Hull City from Sunderland, initially on loan. He said he wanted me to play in midfield as he thought I was the missing link they needed. 

I knew him, his coaching staff and what to expect, plus I needed games so it was a no-brainer. 

Steve had built a strong spine to the team and there was a big Irish contingent with the likes of Paul McShane, Robbie Brady and Stephen Quinn there. 

McShane used to joke that ‘when there’s trouble you send the Irish fellas in first to take the bullets’. If things weren’t going well and he had to chop and change the side, you’d suddenly see two or three Irish players in the starting line-up because he knew he could rely on us.

When I signed, Steve said with certainty that we would get promoted — and that’s exactly what happened.

Our run to the FA Cup final under him in 2014 is also an achievement I look back on fondly. The manager explained that not many people get the opportunity to play at Wembley and that it was something we all should experience. That was our motivation.

We were extremely fortuitous in that, with the exception of Arsenal, all of our opponents — Middlesbrough, Southend United, Brighton, Sunderland and Sheffield United — were ranked below us in terms of league position. But, as the old saying goes, you can only beat what’s put in front of you.

We should’ve seen off the Gunners in the final too considering we were 2-0 up inside eight minutes, but ended up losing 3-2 after extra-time. 

It’s easy to forget Steve had a remarkable playing career and is arguably the best player to have never been capped by England. I know they had some great centre-halves but it’s crazy to think that the captain of a Manchester United team who were winning everything domestically didn’t pick up one senior international cap along the way.

He used to remind us that he scored 19 goals in all competitions (13 in the league) as a centre-half in 1990/91, caning us midfielders for only chipping in six or seven goals in a season. He was the penalty-taker for United that season but it is still a serious feat.

As a manager and a man, I couldn’t speak highly enough of Steve and I’ll always be grateful to him.

soccer-fa-cup-semi-final-replay-manchester-united-v-crystal-palace-villa-park Steve Bruce celebrating a goal against Crystal Palace in an FA Cup semi-final replay. Source: PA

Although he gets a lot of stick for his style of play, I think he has done a really good job at Newcastle. Unfortunately, the fans don’t have a good relationship with owner Mike Ashley and it was always going to be tough for whoever succeeded Rafa Benitez as he was loved up there.

When the Saudi takeover didn’t happen, it would have led to more frustration as the Geordies must be dreaming of new owners arriving and going on a spending spree.

Steve has stepped in and is a steady hand. From Wallsend, he watched Newcastle as a young boy and wanted to play for them, so managing the club must be the next best thing. I believe he will comfortably keep them up this season, but the supporters are looking to see more attractive football. Do they have the players for that? Probably not.

You have to be careful what you wish for, as a few wrong decisions from clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League can have devastating effects. Just look at Newcastle’s rivals Sunderland, who are now toiling in League One.

This weekend, it’s the FA Cup third round and the Magpies are away to defending champions Arsenal on Saturday evening.

Mikel Arteta won his first trophy as a manager in this competition last season, and the big question is how strong a team will he put out? I think they will go with a full-strength squad to keep the recent momentum going, and I’d be inclined to predict a 2-0 home victory.

Aston Villa v Liverpool, 7.45pm Friday

aston-villa-v-liverpool-premier-league-villa-park Villa's Ollie Watkins and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, after the striker scored a hat-trick in their 7-2 victory. Source: PA

Aston Villa beating Liverpool 7-2 earlier in the season will still be fresh in the minds of Jurgen Klopp and his players, so you can imagine there will be a bit of bite in this game.

The Reds will want to stamp their authority on it after a dreadful performance when the sides last met in October. They haven’t been great in their last three games, drawing with West Brom and Newcastle as well as the defeat to Southampton on Monday.

I feel Klopp will go with his strongest XI as they have a nine-day break between the FA Cup tie and a massive league fixture against Man United.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino haven’t been firing like we know they can in recent weeks, but this is an opportunity to get themselves back on the scoresheet.

Villa have been hit with a Covid-19 outbreak and now look set to field a team of youth players.

I’m going with 2-0 Liverpool.

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