Steve Bruce on the season ahead
For Steve Bruce the memories of last season’s Premiership relegation hurt deeper than anything he has ever experienced in his footballing career. His team experienced their worst run in the Premiership and were made to pay the price. On the 5th August they will play their first home match of the season against Colchester United – a far cry from the Premiership greats of Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United. But for Bruce the season cannot start quick enough. A string of pre-season changes which included waving off Emile Heskey and Jermaine Pennant, have ushered in new squad at St Andrews. Young, fresh and vibrant are just a few words that describe a new look Birmingham City. Speaking to The Asian Today, Bruce reveals his optimism for the season ahead and how his new crop of players are ready to do battle on the Championship field…
New season, new league and new challenges. Are you looking forward to the new season?
We all felt completely battered and bruised after last season and it was really difficult to get over what happened. Everyone associated with the Club was really hurting and no one was hurting more than me. At the end of the season I had to put my hands up and say I made some mistakes and I had to take a long hard look at myself and the team. A number of players left the club and we had to make major changes to the team. We have brought in really young athletic energetic and enthusiastic players in, the likes of Cameron Jerome from Cardiff, Neil Danns from Colchester and Stephen Kelly from Spurs. We have also brought in Bruno N’Gotty who brings experience to the squad. I am delighted with everyone that has come in and the squad as a whole, there is a great atmosphere around the place and I am looking forward to this season. We are under no illusions that it will be a difficult to gain promotion straight away as stats show us that only 23% of teams that are relegated from the Premiership get back at the first time of trying but I am confident we can do well and our aim is to get promoted in May.
You made many changes to the squad over the summer. Was it important to get some fresh blood in the squad for the season ahead?
Like I say it was vital that we had a big change around in the Summer and bring in fresh faces. I think we lost 12 or 13 players just because they were out of contract and Emile and Jermaine have left us so there is still a lot more work that still needs to be done. I am looking at bringing in at least three more players and I also have two lads from Arsenal joining us on a season long loan. Arsenal wouldn’t sell them to us as they want to keep hold of them as they have a really bright future ahead of them and many people have described them as two of the most exciting young players playing in this country at the moment so I hope they do well for us to.
You’ve just returned from a pre-season tour of Spain. Were you impressed with the way the team performed in Spain?
Spain was an excellent trip for us and certainly not a holiday camp. The players trained twice a day morning and evening in temperatures well into the 80’s. We gave them really physical sessions and worked them very hard indeed. It was great to see all the players get on with the job in hand and give it everything they have got. The games were not against the best opposition but we went about them in a professional manner and it was a decent test. The one thing I was delighted to see was goals which has been our weakness and something that we had to address. In the three games we played in Spain we scored 15 goals and only conceded two. You cant get too carried away with pre season games as they are just a warm up and results aren’t everything, especially as we came home and was beaten by Tottenham.
You were lacking in goals last season. Is this an area that you have identified as the key to win back promotion to the Premiership?
The fact of the matter is that for us to get promoted this year we have to score at least 75 goals. So we need players that can do that. If David Dunn stays fit we know what a difference he can make to games, Mikeal can score goals and at the end of last season we saw him start to show the form that he showed before he picked up that horrible injury that ruled him out for the year. Cameron Jerome and DJ Campbell are both top strikers and Neil Danns scored 16 goals last season from midfield. So with all of those players in the team plus one more centre forward that I want to bring in we should have enough firepower in the team.
You’re the bookies favourites to win promotion back to the Premiership. Do the players feel any pressure to succeed knowing this?
I don’t think that really factors in the players or my mentality. We all want to be successful and win games and contend at the top of the table. If anything the pressure comes from yourself pushing you on. We want to be successful for ourselves, the board, staff and most importantly Birmingham City’s fans.
You’ve been linked with Coventry’s Gary McSheffrey. What is the situation with this?
Everybody knows that this is a player I would love to bring to Birmingham but Coventry have made it clear that they do not want to sell him and have turned down a couple of our bids. I believe we have made very lucrative offers for the player but we will have to wait and see what will happen, I can not sit around waiting to see what Coventry or anyone else want to do, the season is near upon us and I need to bring in the players that will do the best job for me and the team.
Jermaine Pennant is now a Liverpool player. Was it a difficult decision to sell him?
We didn’t want him to go and we did similar to Coventry, turn down offers and try to price Jermaine out of the market. But as we know every player has their price and its is not right for me to stand in the lads way when he is approached by a club like Liverpool. Like I say we did our best to fend them off but ultimately they offered us what we consider to be a good price, its now up to me to find the next Jermaine Pennant and get them to the club. You also have to take in to account what would happen if we did stand in Jermaine’s way, that £8m player suddenly does not want t o play for you to their full potential and what are you left with?
As the new season approaches, any message to the club’s fans?
Birmingham’s fans are tremendous and have always shown support. And now is the time when we need them more than ever. The team I put out this year will fight for their place and the fans will see a more battling team this year. We know what is in store for us this season and I am looking forward to it, it will be more enjoyable and I know that fans will be right behind us this year.
Interview by Zakia Yousaf