Armchair Pundit

Impotent Bruce could ‘win’ sack race

Alex Chick

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Last week saw the strangest transfer of the year - a deal that could end up sealing Sunderland manager Steve Bruce's fate.

Asamoah Gyan's move to Al Ain saw the Black Cats net a world record £6m loan fee, but they ended up humiliated.

Of particular embarrassment to Bruce was the fact he seemed to be the last person to find out about it.

On Saturday morning the papers ran quotes from Bruce saying he had cleared the air with Gyan and ended the rumours - "absolute rubbish," Bruce said - about him leaving the club.

A couple of hours later we heard that Gyan had signed for Al Ain.

Bruce lamented grubby agents and money-men who set the deal up to milk a percentage of Gyan's newly gargantuan wages, but he merely exuded powerlessness.

This is the new football. From Bunyodkor to Anzhi Makhachkala, heads are being turned by massive sums of money. How to fight back? How about insisting your players honour their contracts?

The move may very well have been presented to Bruce as a fait accompli, but all he needed to do was inform Gyan there was no earthly way he was leaving Wearside.

Sunderland only had to refuse to sanction the deal.

But then they had to ask themselves if they could refuse a £6m loan fee, plus whatever they sell him for, to keep a distracted striker.

They took the money, but they may come to regret it.

With Gyan in full flight last season, the £24m sale of Darren Bent to Aston Villa looked justifiable.

But now Gyan has gone the cupboard looks very bare up front, especially after they failed to land England favourite Peter Crouch and settled for national punchline Nicklas Bendtner, who marked his debut by missing a sitter.

Sunderland have swapped two proven goalscorers for Bendtner, plus the raw Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-Won.

Obviously enough, having someone who regularly sticks the ball in the net can make a huge difference.

The three promoted clubs have scored just four times between them this season, and you only had to look at Jay Bothroyd's ineptitude in front of goal last night to know where QPR will be focusing their transfer cash in January.

And look at Bent, whose nine goals in 16 games helped propel Villa from the relegation zone to a ninth-placed finish last season.

Gyan has been portrayed as a greedy mercenary, but consider his situation. He was earning a reported £50,000-a-week pre-tax at Sunderland, while at Al Ain he picks up £200,000-a-week after tax.

Surely you can forgive him for at least thinking about it?

But what the move does tell you about is his attitude to Sunderland. He was there to pick up a wage, not win trophies.

It might be a tough sell getting players to buy into whatever grand 'project' the club has in mind, but is it too much to persuade your squad you can achieve seventh place (best of the rest after the 'big six'), a good tilt at the cups and Europa League qualification?

In other words, if Sunderland's players don't even believe they can emulate the recent feats of Fulham or Stoke, then there is little hope.

Most worryingly from Bruce's point of view is just how impotent the whole episode has made him look.

Even through six trophyless seasons, Arsene Wenger's position has been safe because he is clearly the boss at Arsenal. What he says goes.

There is no coincidence that calls for him to leave magnified when that illusion of power evaporated - Wenger failing to anticipate the worst-case scenario of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving. If the manager no longer decides who comes and goes - well, he's no longer in control, is he?

Sir Alex Ferguson has never distanced himself from his decisions. Instead he prefers to insist they were right in defiance of overwhelming evidence to the contrary - notably in the "youse are all f****** idiots" rant when Juan Sebastian Veron's form was questioned. Even when palpably wrong, Fergie is in charge.

Bruce's wailing about the modern world portrays him as a victim, an anachronism and a hypocrite - he didn't have to accept the Al Ain money.

If he wants to keep his job, and avoid beating Steve Kean to first place in the sack race, he needs to can the self-pity and come out fighting.

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