Titus Bramble has transformed opinions at Sunderland with an excellent first season at the club. He told chief sports writer Luke Edwards about the role Steve Bruce has played in rebuilding his career.
HE was sick of hearing it from overly-critical elements in media and tired of being told it by ill-informed supporters, so you would have thought the last thing Titus Bramble needed to hear from Steve Bruce was that he was not a good player.
The conversation came shortly after Bruce’s arrival as manager at Wigan Athletic, a few days after Bramble had begun life under his new boss with a horrendous mistake in the first minute of his first game in charge against Everton.
It might have been an awkward moment, the beginning of the end of his Wigan career just a handful of months after he had left Newcastle United with his reputation in tatters.
Instead, it was arguably the best piece of advice Bramble has been given.
Despite being an England under-21 international, despite helping Newcastle qualify for the Champions League, despite playing in the middle of a back four which beat Juventus 1-0 in that competition and despite being an integral part of a backline which qualified for the second group stage of the competition, Bramble was turned into laughing stock at St James’ Park.
He played his part in that. There were terrible moments and embarrassing gaffes, but there were also long periods of class and composure.
As Bramble is able to reflect now, for all of the criticism and the jokes at his expense, as a young man in his early 20s, he was playing for one of the top four sides in the country in club football’s biggest competition.
“Maybe I had issues with my concentration, but people tend to forget I was a young boy when I joined Newcastle,” said Bramble, who was speaking to mark Sunderland’s support for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which will see them wear the charity’s new wristbands before today’s clash with Wolves.
“It is part of the game for young players – it is difficult to concentrate fully all the time, but the more games you play as a centre-half the more mature and experienced you get and hopefully I am showing that. I relish defending now.
“Maybe at times at Newcastle I thought I was more than a defender when I was on the ball.
“I understand now that my job is just to keep out goals. There are other people in the team whose job is to score and create goals – that is not down to me. Maybe before I tried to do too much, but now I know I am there to head and tackle. That is what I am paid to do.
“I have come to realise that and, to be fair, that was what Steve Bruce said to me when I went to Wigan.
“He said, in a polite way, ‘you are not a good player.
“He was very nice about it and I knew what he meant - yes, I can pass the ball, but that is not what I am paid to do.
“He made me realise that and it has made me a much better defender.
“Steve was a no-nonsense defender as a player and he was so successful at Manchester United it really meant a lot to me when he signed me.
“I know he spoke to Sir Bobby about buying me when he was at Birmingham City.
“He has always had confidence in me, which is good.
“Birmingham did not happen, but I went to Wigan and it worked out great.
“Steve has been great for me - he has given me confidence again.
“When he talked to me, it stuck in my head: I am not a good player, I am just a defender.”
At 29, Bramble has been superb for Sunderland and, had he not been injured, the former Ipswich Town prospect would have pushed Phil Bardsley all the way in the player of the year reckoning.
Despite a mixed reaction to his signing back in July, the centre-back has become one of the most popular players at the Stadium of Light.
With a colourful past with the black and whites there were those who never wanted to see him in red and white, but he has won them round with performances, not words.
He added:: “I didn’t think I had anything to prove coming back to the North East - I just wanted to win the Sunderland fans over, because I had been at Newcastle and now I was playing for their club.
“They have been great with me and I really appreciate it.
“Since the moment I got to the airport to head to Portugal in pre-season, they have been brilliant.
“In the first game we played over there, I took a bit of stick from a couple of lads who had obviously been drinking, but you expect that and I dealt with it.
“I cannot lie – before the first home game of the season, I was wondering what sort of reaction I would get.
“It was on my mind the whole week before the game, but the moment I stepped out on to the pitch I was given a great and warm reception. It meant such a lot to me.”