When Steve Bruce took his first the job at Sheffield United in 1998, it probably never crossed his mind that would be preparing to take charge of his first Steel City derby more than 20 years later – and certainly not as the boss of Sheffield Wednesday.
After his single season with the Blades, Bruce has since gone on a two-decade journey across seven clubs in England, before finding himself just up the road at Hillsborough.
But what did he learn at Bramall Lane? Plenty, it seems.
“It was certainly an eye opener!” he told Sky Sports. “It taught me about management very quickly and why I should never be a player-manager either. I tried to do it and play 12 or 13 times.
“It’s fair to say there were a lot of problems [at the club]. It’s never easy for any manager when there is turmoil above you and I certainly witnessed that. But they gave me a chance, it made me grow up and learn and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity.
“I thought it would be enough for me after that and I would go and work in the media. But now it’s 20 years later, which is quite remarkable. I went to Wigan and that was my first taste of really enjoying management. Since then it has always been a challenge but it is the second best thing to playing.
“I’ve now been in the game for 40 years, 20 as a player and 20 as a manager. How lucky am I?”
Alongside Bruce in his Sheffield United squad in 1998/99 was a certain Chris Wilder, who began his management career at a similar time but had to work his way up from Sunday League to the Championship, winning promotions throughout.
“I didn’t really work with him for that long but when you see people that you have worked with go into management or coaching you do keep an eye on them,” said Bruce.
Sheff Wed vs Sheff Utd
March 4, 2019, 7:00pm
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“He’s very talented at what he does and he has shown that in all his jobs. He’s also a big United supporter and that always helps you.”
Bruce has already been on the receiving end of a mauling from Sheffield United this season. His Aston Villa side were hammered 4-1 at Bramall Lane in September.
He admits that the Blades were far superior on the day, but believes there are ways that their attacking style can work to Wednesday’s advantage.
“They were far too good for us and they blew us away that day,” said Bruce. “It was early on in the season but I knew after that they would be there or thereabouts.
“They are all so tuned into what Chris wants and I’ve got the hugest respect for what he’s done. They play in a certain way and we will have to be at our absolute best to beat them.
“You have to cope with their style, but they do leave themselves vulnerable at times and there are aspects of that we can exploit.”
And while he won’t admit it, it won’t be lost on Bruce that a victory would send them back above Aston Villa in the table.
“You’re always bitter and disappointed when you lose a job,” Bruce admitted. “I thought it was a bit unfair after getting to a play-off final that I lost my job after 11 games [of the next season]. But I’m not going to sit here and think it’s great because we’re above Aston Villa.
“We move on and football moves on very quickly. I’ve been given another wonderful job and I want to do the best I can, as I always try to do.”
It was no secret that Bruce wanted to stay at Villa for many years to come. Now, however, he hopes Wednesday could be his last job. Depending, of course, on how much success he has at Hillsborough.
“If I do okay then hopefully I can be here for four or five years,” he said. “But you never know in management, I could lose my next six games and be out on my ear again!
“But I don’t think I’ll be Roy Hodgson’s age and still doing it. The big thing about coming into this job was whether I still had the same enthusiasm to come into work, and the answer is yes. And as long as it stays that way I’ll keep going.”
No doubt a victory in the Steel City derby would help his enthusiasm levels an awful lot.