Bent's exit marked Bruce's end

A series of wrong decisions forced Steve Bruce out of Sunderland.-AP

Even in an era when unsettled footballers can engineer moves, with money beyond reason the singular motive, letting Darren Bent leave mid-season was a crass decision which will haunt Bruce and should keep Texan owner Ellis Short awake at night. By Frank Malley.

It is rare that a football manager's demise can be traced to one point in time. It is usually a mix of mayhem.

Yet in Steve Bruce's case at Sunderland one event stands out, the moment striker Darren Bent was sold to Aston Villa for GBP18 million last January.

Suddenly, Bruce was on trial, his managerial skills examined like never before.

The truth is brutal. He was unable to reconstruct a Sunderland team capable of delivering the goal output to compete successfully with the best in the English Premier League.

Hardly surprising considering Bent had scored 36 goals in 63 games for the club, including 11 in 23 of Sunderland's matches in the 2010-2011 season when they decided to let him go.

How was that a good move for Sunderland? Even in an era when unsettled footballers can engineer moves, with money beyond reason the singular motive, letting Bent leave mid-season was a crass decision which will haunt Bruce and should keep Texan owner Ellis Short awake at night.

You could say Bruce was unlucky. In some ways he was. He could hardly have anticipated that Asamoah Gyan, a striker who impressed for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup, would snub the world's most famous league and chase the cash at Al Ain in the UAE Pro-League.

He also lost the services of on-loan striker Danny Welbeck, who returned to Manchester United, further weakening his strike force.

But bad luck is not the reason Bruce is the latest football manager out of work.

Not when you calculate the influence of signings such as Cristian Riveros, Paulo Da Silva and Marcos Angeleri and arrive at the square root of diddly squat.

Craig Gardner was recruited over the summer to solve the team's lack of goals from midfield. He has barely played.

Those are the sort of players a manager has to get right. The players who determine the reliability and solidity of the squad.

Put it this way, would anyone be prepared to wager their mortgage on on-loan striker Nicklas Bendtner, with two goals so far this season, getting Sunderland out of a relegation hole? Precisely.

Yet Bruce was also let down by the men who should have been the rocks at the Stadium of Light.

Players such as Wes Brown and John O'Shea, purchased from Bruce's old club Manchester United for their defensive quality and their big-match experience.

Therein lies another footballing truth. It is much easier to play with top players at a top club at the top of the league than it is to arrest a slide at a club which has not quite worked out its resting position in the footballing firmament.

Brown has impressed but has made key mistakes, most notably against Wigan, while O'Shea has been distinctly average.

Then there is the boardroom where former chairman Niall Quinn, such a charismatic figure with Sunderland fans and Bruce's biggest backer, has been sidelined recently into an overseas development role.

Boardroom upheaval, manager alienated, poor signings, underachieving players, defeat at home to great rivals Newcastle in August, goals on Wearside as rare as snow in July.

Whichever way you look at it, anyone wanting to know how not to run a football club should take a look at Sunderland over the past 12 months.

Yet the catalyst for it all was the departure of Bent, a move at odds with the ambitions stated by Bruce and Quinn when they floated a vision of the Wearside club mixing it with the cream of Europe.

Whoever ultimately took the decision to let Bent go, and the suspicion is that it was in the boardroom rather than the manager's office, only proved how correct legendary Sunderland striker Len Shackleton was when he devoted a chapter of his autobiography to what he entitled ‘The Average Director's Knowledge of Football'.

It consisted of a single blank page.

Even so, Bruce, an honest, hard-working character and a fine football man, failed to pass the tests which followed, so many that you could write a book on them.

That is why he has gone.


Football agents do not always speak the total truth. They wrap up moves for their clients in phrases such as ‘chasing their dreams', ‘fulfilling their ambitions', ‘pursuing a new challenge'.

No such candy floss when Didier Drogba's agent, Thierno Seydi, revealed he had snubbed Chelsea's offer of a one-year contract extension for the 33-year-old striker.

”At Didier's age, he has nothing left to prove as a player. He will go where he is offered the most money,” Seydi reportedly said.

In its directness, if nothing else, it was refreshingly endearing.

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