After almost two years at the helm, Steve Bruce has been dismissed as Aston Villa manager.
He leaves the Midlanders floundering in the Championship with just one win in 10 matches across all competitions, despite having reached the play-off final in 2017-18, with under-23 coach Kevin MacDonald stepping in on a temporary basis.
A 3-3 home draw with bottom-of-the-table Preston North End, in which a fan bizarrely threw a cabbage at the former Hull City coach, proved the final straw, but in truth the writing has been on the wall for some time.
Whilst some in the media and a select few of the Villa Park faithful remain loyal to the 57-year-old, the majority of Holte End regulars are in agreement with the decision.
Here are five reasons why the parting of the ways is the right call:
Quality of football
The most pressing issue that most fans had with Bruce was the style of play he employed during his time in the dugout.
Despite managing over 100 games in claret and blue, there was little in the way of improvement on that front during his tenure.
It’s not necessarily that Villa were a long-ball team under his watch, but that there seemed to be no discernible structure in place, players distributing with a lack of urgency and often ending up simply passing across the field in front of the opponent’s defence.
That is despite having what most would agree is one of, if not the strongest squad in the Championship.
Bruce seemed to be reliant on moments of magic from the quality players at his disposal rather than winning a game with a tactical plan.
John McGinn scored THE goal of the day.
No arguments. 👍 pic.twitter.com/95LlLOyvjX
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) September 22, 2018
Last season the standard of play was tolerated because results were being ground out, although there was always a sense amongst the crowd that a more progressive approach could have seen the side better their eventual fourth-placed finish.
The real positive performances could be counted on one hand, with wins over Wolverhampton Wanderers and rivals Birmingham City the stand-out highlights, but even they were immediately followed by dropped points in the next fixture.
Whether it was an unwillingness or inability on Bruce’s part to find a more expansive game plan, we may never know, but it has cost the ex-Sunderland boss dearly.
Team selection and substitutions
Aside from how Villa played under Bruce, his team selections often left supporters baffled.
The Mile Jedinak experiment this term, which has seen the Aussie midfielder crowbarred in at centre-half, typifies that and has backfired spectacularly with a number of mistakes.
Talented Manchester United loanee Axel Tuanzebe looked a perfect fit in that position but has largely featured at right-back, Jack Grealish has been moved from an influential central role out to the left wing, with the one-dimensional Ahmed Elmohamady continuing to be deployed on the opposite flank despite the arrivals of both Anwar El Ghazi and Yannick Bolasie in August.
And when things weren’t going well, Bruce seemed unable to change the tide of a fixture with his substitutions.
Losing? Throw an extra striker on and hope for the best.
Winning? Shut up shop instead of going for the jugular.
It’s the curse of social media that every armchair fan thinks they can do a better job than the man in the hot seat, but as time wore on, more and more questions were thrown Bruce’s way, and he rarely came up with the answers.
Poor transfer dealings
A major myth that needs busting is that Bruce was not backed financially at Villa.
Granted, this summer was a testing one with the initial threat of financial implosion, but by August new billionaire owners were in place and signings on their way through the door.
Yesterday, we welcomed new majority owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens to Villa Park for the first time on matchday.
— Aston Villa FC (@AVFCOfficial) August 26, 2018
A look at the transfer dealings from Bruce’s first window in charge (January 2017) proves damning; six players arriving for a combined total of around £23 million (a huge sum in Championship terms), and how many of those started the play-off final less than 18 months later?
One – Conor Hourihane.
That is symptomatic of a manager throwing money at a problem with no long-term plan in place.
Former England skipper John Terry arrived in the summer of 2017, along with fellow veterans Elmohamady, Glenn Whelan and, strangely, Christopher Samba.
Free transfers they may have been, but the club forked out a huge amount in wages to bring them in, on top of several high-profile loan signings.
Bruce had resources most in the division could only dream of and yes, did take the team to the brink of the Premier League, but promotion was his one and only remit and, to put it bluntly, he failed.
Villans became tired of their manager trotting out the same old excuses after disappointing results, ranging from poor refereeing decisions, to injuries, the weight of expectation at the club – the list goes on.
Rarely were the mediocre showings called out by the boss, which is fine in terms of protecting the players, but when it came to hearing the same line repeated for the umpteenth time in post-match interviews, fans began to wonder whether he should have been doing less talking and more work on the training pitch to address the rather obvious issues.
This season, Bruce’s go-to vindication for deteriorating displays was that the spine of the play-off team that he ‘built’ had left the club.
Yes, Sam Johnstone, Terry, Robert Snodgrass and Lewis Grabban departed at the end of last term, but three of those were only loan signings and the other, Terry, had penned just a one-year contract.
That is not ‘building a team’ – that is a short-term fix that yet again highlights his lack of foresight, and cannot be used to excuse sub-par results.
Losing the fans
The final nail in Bruce’s coffin, as is so often the case, was that he lost the Villa fanbase.
Whilst the likes of Chris Kirkland on Twitter, or Darren Bent, speaking to talkSPORT after the Preston game, would have us believe that his Birmingham City links contributed to that breakdown, that is in fact not the case.
He got you to play off final last season ,you are 11 games in and 2 points off top 6 ,the real reason is you villa fans will never except he managed Birmingham!!!
— Chris Kirkland (@ChrisKirkland43) October 3, 2018
After all, Bruce’s tenure at Blues came to an end over 10 years ago; there was not the proximity that made it difficult to accept Alex McLeish’s arrival in 2011.
His appointment was generally seen as a savvy one in October 2016, a safe pair of hands to take over matters at a time when the club appeared to be in free fall.
Fast forward two years and the picture is very different.
As mentioned above, the standard of football is diabolical, the players seemingly running around without cohesive instructions.
Bruce has also spent too much time recently sniping at his critics on the terraces, particularly after the win over Rotherham United, his only victory since August, when he suggested that ‘intelligent’ supporters would back him to remain in the job.
Once that relationship falls apart, it is near impossible to recover, and so it has proved.
The majority of the claret and blue faithful recognise that Bruce steadied the ship during a turbulent period in the club’s history and gave it his best in the 2017-18 campaign whilst dealing with testing personal circumstances.
Realistically, though, the game has now passed him by, his tactics and ‘roll your sleeves up’ attitude not enough to outwit younger, more astute managers.
My criteria for any new manager:-
1. Committed to an attractive playing style that can compete against EPL teams if we are promoted.
2. Someone who wants to WIN and not come #ThereOrThereAbouts
3. Youth developer who can coach solutions and not just buy solutions#avfc 🦁
— Shelley (@ShelleyOzzy) October 3, 2018
The call to remove him from his post is almost unanimously seen by fans as the right one and the focus must now shift to getting in the proper replacement.
Dean Smith, Rafa Benitez and Thierry Henry are amongst the names being touted for what will be an attractive proposition to most bosses.
Yes, Bruce has left Villa without a recognised number one goalkeeper, despite signing two in the summer, while the team is desperately short of cover in defence, a peculiar legacy for a man who was once one of the country’s finest centre-backs.
Nonetheless, there is a wealth of talent going forward; Grealish, Bolasie, El Ghazi, John McGinn, Tammy Abraham and Jonathan Kodjia are just some of the offensive options available.
Bruce fell short in finding a system to get the best out of them on a consistent basis; that’s the challenge for the new manager and will likely be the difference between success and failure.