Rewind the clock a little over twelve months, Wolverhampton Wanderers had just suffered a crushing home defeat against bitter neighbours West Bromwich Albion and made a decision to dispense with the services of manager Mick McCarthy following a largely successful five and a half year reign.
They’d just slipped into the Premier League relegation zone with thirteen games remaining, however whilst their predicament looked perilous, it certainly wasn’t terminal- only goal difference separated them from 16th-placed Queens Park Rangers.
Wolves’ Chief Executive Jez Moxey immediately outlined their desire to replace the outgoing McCarthy with an experienced manager, suggesting it was “a big job” and “not one for novices”. Candidates drifted by- Alan Curbishley, Walter Smith, Gus Poyet and Brian McDermott were all heavily linked, the former two reported to have been offered the job- until it seemed Wolves had finally settled on one man, Steve Bruce.
That was certainly the indication Bruce was given following a meeting with Moxey and Wolves chairman Steve Morgan, at least enough for him to inform his wife he’d got himself back into work!
The hours passed and a concrete offer never came, had Wolves suddenly gone cold? There was a suggestion that a huge wave of hostility across Wolves supporters’ internet message boards and forums in response to the Bruce speculation had influenced the Wolves hierarchy. The job eventually went to McCarthy’s assistant Terry Connor, who at first glance appeared the antithesis of the criteria Moxey had initially spelled out; Wolves registered only four points in their remaining fixtures and were relegated to the Championship.
Fast forward again to the present day and Wolves’ plight has significantly worsened, whilst Friday night’s draw with Watford was an indication they are capable of getting results against the division’s top sides, they are submerged in the Championship bottom three and facing the unspeakable prospect of successive relegations.
When Connor exited at the end of last season they appointed Norwegian Stale Solbakken as his replacement, a man largely unknown on these shores. Solbakken’s attempts at revolutionising the style of football were hindered by the sales of star players Matt Jarvis and Steven Fletcher and somewhat furthermore by the tools left at his disposal- a group of players that in large parts were brought in by his predecessors for their grafting qualities rather than their artistry.
Results didn’t improve and fearing a further slide down the football league, Morgan and Moxey disposed of Solbakken and drafted in Dean Saunders to help guide them to safety. Saunders, whose only managerial experience at Championship level was suffering relegation with Doncaster Rovers last season, has yet to register a single victory in the nine games he’s overseen.
Bruce on the other hand is enjoying something of a managerial renaissance. Discarded by Sunderland prior to his Wolves snub, his reputation and credentials had been brought into question, yet Hull City owner Assem Allam has given him the opportunity to address that.
Following Bruce’s appointment last summer Hull have enjoyed a steady rise towards the summit of the Championship, with eleven games remaining Hull have moved into the automatic promotion spots, a feat which if achieved would represent his third Championship promotion as a manager. Add that to a steady, if unspectacular, Premier League record with Sunderland, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic and it seems remarkable that Bruce’s credentials were deemed by Wolves to be inferior to the men who have followed his brief flirtation with them.
There was a suggestion earlier in Bruce’s managerial career that he gravitated towards jobs where an open cheque book was available, his comparative success at Hull has been achieved largely without such luxury, indeed only German striker Nick Proschwitz cost a sizeable transfer fee. Much of Hull’s success has come as a result of their use of the loan market- the likes of Ahmed Elmohamady, Robbie Brady, David Meyler, Gedo and George Boyd seem to provide enough evidence to suggest that Bruce’s side can sustain their promotion challenge whilst Wolves try and scramble their way to safety.
You have to wonder if the Wolves hierarchy wish they’d gambled on a Brucey bonus back in February 2012, he may well have been the dependable pair of hands they craved all along.