HE may have spent nearly nine years learning from the greatest football manager of modern times, but Steve Bruce believes trying to copy Sir Alex Ferguson would be pointless.
The Sunderland boss was in Manchester last night at a dinner to mark Sunday’s 25th anniversary of Ferguson’s appointment as Manchester United manager.
Tomorrow, the pair meet there again on very different terms as Bruce’s Black Cats try to spoil the party at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
Sunderland are fortunate their last three managers have worked at close quarters with some of the managerial greats. Bruce, Ricky Sbragia and Roy Keane were all at Manchester United, while the latter also had the privilege of playing under former Sunderland striker Brian Clough.
But, while Bruce saw Ferguson’s infamous “hairdryer” first hand plenty of times during his spell as a Red Devil, he has never been tempted to copy it.
The Scot’s short temper with under-performing players is notorious. Early in Ferguson’s quarter-century at Old Trafford, the players coined a nickname for his favourite method of dressing down, standing nose-to-nose with his victim and bawling him out.
“Thankfully Pally (Gary Pallister) got it more than me,” recalled Bruce, one of Ferguson’s first and best signings. “In the early days we knew it was coming because Archie (Knox, Ferguson’s first assistant) had a way of telling us when we were going up the tunnel at Old Trafford. He’d tap you on the shoulder and tell you to get ready, it’s coming.
“If you couldn’t stand up to that you were no use to him (Ferguson). If you couldn’t stand up to him and his demands, and many a player couldn’t, then you couldn’t play for Man U. He wanted people to respond to it and react to it rather than shrink from it.
“There’s many a time when we’ve had it, we’ve all had it. It’s part and parcel of it.
“It was his mentality to have people around him who were born winners like he was. He would just shout right in your face. We all answered him back, but there was only ever one winner – him, and rightly so. For all of us who had it, you just accepted it. It made you better and stronger.
“With that lot (at Manchester United), you could bully them and try and give them a rollocking as much as you wanted, but they would respond always in the right way.
“There were times when you’d see him wink as if to say, ‘Let’s see how you respond’.
“I’m sure people like Nani and (Cristiano) Ronaldo have had the hairdryer as well.
“We just accepted it, it was the way it was but the great thing about it is that once it was done, it was done. On the Monday morning it was back to normal, he never held it against you if you played badly. Just make sure you’re better next week.”
Keane apparently had his own version of the hairdryer, nicknamed “the tumble dryer” by his then Sunderland players, although it was probably less an attempt at imitation, more his natural reaction to disappointment.
Towards the end of his tenure in particular, Keane spent little time at the training ground. That was a trait of Clough’s, but it backfired on his former midfielder, and was one of the criticisms leveled against Keane when he left the club.
Bruce certainly believes trying to copy Ferguson’s methods is futile.
“As a manager you lose your temper now and again of course, but there’s one thing you can’t do and that’s replicate him and what he does,” said the former centre-back and captain. “You’ve either got it or you haven’t. If you try to copy him you’re going to be found out.
“You’ve got to do it your way.”