Steve Bruce alienated a number of players who could, or should be in and around the first team. Dean Smith is taking the steps to fix this, and signs are positive, but it will take time.
Words by Regan Foy (@FindFoy)
During Steve Bruce’s tenure as Aston Villa manager, he alienated a number of players who could have been, or should have been, in and around the first team.
The likes of Neil Taylor, Henri Lansbury and Scott Hogan were cast aside by the former Aston Villa boss, and with the latter struggling with an injury at the start of this season, we’d have been lucky to have seen any other aforementioned get a chance at this point in the season.
It even seemed as if Steve Bruce was starting to alienate Irish midfielder Conor Hourihane. With Bruce preferring the Icelandic Birkir Bjarnason or Glenn Whelan as a supporting role for John McGinn and Jack Grealish, Hourihane looked destined to make appearances from the bench for the vast majority of the season – and even at times looked as if he’d prolonged Bruce’s time at the club by providing last-ditch assists or goals in the dying embers of the game in an attempt to win his place back.
In regards to Neil Taylor, for much of the tail end of last season, Steve Bruce had lost confidence with the only natural left-back in the senior squad and called upon Alan Hutton to fill the gap – almost putting a square into a circle hole.
Under Dean Smith, Taylor has gone from strength to strength and is starting to win plaudits with the fans again, especially after a very strong performance against Bolton Wanderers, as well as some important tackles and blocks in previous games.
The Welshman looks as if he is regaining his confidence, knows that he has cemented the position as his for the foreseeable future, and that is translating into his performances on the pitch.
But under Bruce, Taylor had a handful of injuries, looked shaky in and out of possession and was possibly at a low in his career after almost ending the career of Everton’s Seamus Coleman with a horror tackle in an International game.
With Henri Lansbury, we’ve not seen him in or around the squad for quite some time. This could be because he isn’t fit, his attitude isn’t right, or that Dean Smith simply doesn’t rate him ahead of the regular performers of Grealish, Hourihane, McGinn, Bjarnason and Whelan.
But, if his attitude isn’t right – or he’s not entirely fit – or even if he’s just not the player that Aston Villa signed from Nottingham Forest anymore, that’s not the fault of Dean Smith. It’s the fault of Steve Bruce, who almost gave Lansbury the cold shoulder during important times over the course of the last season.
Possibly the worst case of man management under Steve Bruce has to be Scott Hogan.
Signed for a high fee, from Dean Smith’s Brentford, Hogan was one of the most prolific scorers in the Sky Bet Championship before his arrival at Villa Park, and looked to be brimming with confidence.
Initially, he looked to struggle with the expectation of playing for a club the size of Aston Villa – but it soon became clear that the style of football that Steve Bruce expected just didn’t suit a striker that wasn’t a target man.
There was a period of around four or give games, after the arrival of attacking coach Steve Agnew last season when Scott Hogan looked as if he’d got his mojo back and scored in every single game, but once the January deadline came around and Lewis Grabban came in on loan, there was very little that Hogan could do to ensure game time for the remainder of the season.
This season, Scott Hogan has missed a few games through injury – but now he’s fit and raring to go and is said to be almost prolific in training. He just needs time and opportunity.
When he came on for the last ten or so minutes of the game against Bolton Wanderers, the forward was making some exquisite runs – his team mates just couldn’t quite get on the same wavelength.
Given time, Scott Hogan will come good. I’m sure of that. Especially under his former boss Dean Smith and the style of football that Aston Villa are playing. It won’t be long, before like Neil Taylor, he’s brimming with confidence again.
But it truly puts a perspective of how poor of a man manager Steve Bruce was. If you weren’t in the ‘Brucey Boy Club’, you’d struggle to get game time which would only make the situation worse for you, especially mentally, and especially if you were fit and performing in training.