Steve Bruce talks Manchester United, the 'genius' of Sir Alex Ferguson, winning titles & almost signing for Newcastle United

Newcastle United have not done the double of Manchester United since the 1930s – but Steve Bruce is hoping to break another record against his former club.

Wednesday, 25th December 2019, 10:30 pm
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05:  Sir Alex Ferguson (L) of Manchester United and Steve Bruce of Sunderland walk off after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on November 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 05: Sir Alex Ferguson (L) of Manchester United and Steve Bruce of Sunderland walk off after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on November 5, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Not since Andy Cunningham, recognised as the Magpies’ first ever manager, have Newcastle managed to win against Red Devils home and away, such is the task facing Bruce and his players on Boxing Day.

But, as Bruce knows all too well, records are there to be broken – this season’s he’s already beaten Man United for the first time in his managerial career, add bettering Roy Hodgson to that growing list as well.

“It will be a proud day," said Bruce of his return to Old Trafford, where he spent 10 years, skippered for five and lifted the Premier League trophy at the expense of his current charges in 1996.

“We've just been saying, the last time we did the double over them the club’s first manager was in charge.”

Thinking back over his time in red, Bruce recalls: “Wow, won, I had ten great years there, Half my playing career. It was a pleasure to captain them for the best part of five years. Great times. It is that long ago, I can hardly remember. It’s a different generation – 23 years since I left – but it’s always great to go back.”

Bruce was an integral part of the Manchester United team of the early 1990s, build of grit, goals, quality and a dash of youth.

Now a manager himself, Bruce really appreciates the artistry needed to create a side that was to become the dominant force in England for years to come under Sir Alex Ferguson.

“The big thing about Old Trafford and Sir Alex was the master of it,” said Bruce.

“People like Dennis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel, Pally (Gary Pallister), Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, myself, Mark Hughes all played for years. That enabled the young lads to be in an environment which helped them flourish. That was vitally important.

"He was a master in turning a team around. In 1995 we thought he had lost the plot when he let Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis, and Hughes go. We thought 'wow!' and he brought in the kids."

Ferguson’s name goes hand-in-hand with success, trophies, 1996, Bayern Munich, the treble, the class of 92 but there was also another side to him – as Bruce found out on his debut.

“My debut, we played Portsmouth away,” Bruce recalls.

“In the old dressing-room at Fratton Park there a pillar that stood alone in the corner. When I came in at half-time there were about eight players sitting around this pillar. I sat on my own on the other side, thinking, “Why are they all sitting there?”. We weren’t playing well. Fergie came in, and he started. I soon understand why they were all hiding behind that pillar!

“Many people want to find out about him. He tested you to the limit because if you couldn’t handle Sir Alex back in the day, I don’t think you were any good for Man Utd. Within three or four years of me being there, he surrounded himself with people who could look after themselves. The ‘94 team was for me the best team I ever played in with Pallister, Ince and Keane, Hughes and Cantona, Giggs and Kanchelskis, Irwin and Parker. They could fight, they could play football and they were winners. There was a desire about them that was his and it epitomised what he was all about. He wanted to surround himself with people who could win and he had a ferocious will to win and achieve.”

Bruce had a glittering career at Old Trafford, but it could have been so different for the boyhood Newcastle fan – and while he's happy to mention how he nearly became a Magpies player, Bruce is saving the juicy bits for a book on his career, which has been put on hold.

Asked about Iam McFaul’s attempts to sign him in the 1980s, Bruce said: "He couldn’t sign me either. I had a meeting with Willie McFaul. That’ll be in the book!”

Will the book be much about Newcastle?

Bruce said: “I suppose it would be nice if the book ended up the other way around but, when you’re writing a book – take this the right way – everyone wants to hear about Man U and Fergie, so that will be a big chunk.

“When I get around to it, it will certainly be better than the first one, I didn’t take enough time on that. It was very, very poor. I’ll do it properly this time."

On the book, Bruce admits he hopes he still has a few chapters to write at Newcastle United.

He continued: “I was out of work when I started working on that. I have had to keep a few chapters for this job, however long it will be. What you need when you write a book is time and after Aston Villa, I thought I would have a bit of time. I was determined not to go back to work for a while and take a bit of time off. But then I took a phone call and was off and running again so we will revisit the book at a later date and look at the title.”