STEVE BRUCE is a man who does not usually do regrets.
After the stellar career that the 54-year-old has had as both a manager and a player at the highest level, this is perhaps no surprise.
However, when the conversation turned yesterday to Charlie Austin and the medical that the striker failed at Hull City during the 2013 summer transfer window, Bruce’s face betrayed his feeling that Austin is very much the one that got away.
Austin, then of Burnley, had agreed terms on a £4.5m transfer when a routine medical unearthed concerns over a previously undetected knee problem.
Further tests followed before Hull, with the memory of Jimmy Bullard’s injury problems as the club’s record signing still fresh, pulled the plug. Austin was devastated, admitting late last year how he considered quitting football after missing out on a dream move to the Premier League.
Salvation, however, arrived a few weeks later when QPR agreed a deal to sign the Clarets striker and their boldness has been rewarded.
Not only did Austin net 20 times to help Rangers to promotion during his first year at Loftus Road, he has since gone on to score 13 goals this time around to sit joint third in the Premier League goal-scoring chart behind Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero.
For Bruce, the 25-year-old’s scoring exploits in the top flight have been no surprise.
“We identified him,” said the Tigers’ manager ahead of Austin’s first return to the KC since his aborted transfer.
“I think he would have been a real terrific player for us. As he has proved, he is a goal-scorer with a fantastic attitude.
“The sad thing is he probably never knew he had a funny knee. Or something wrong with his knee.
“Going back 30 years, I failed my medical with a knee injury I didn’t know I had. It was at Manchester United.
“They signed me on my playing record and the belief that I’d never had a bad knee. It went back to when I was a kid, at the age of 12. Incredible.
“Charlie Austin has proved he is a quality player. Our loss is QPR’s gain.
“Not only has he done as much as anyone this year, but last season he scored the goals that got them into the Premier League.
“That is what he was brought in to do. It is never easy to score goals. We are all looking for someone like that. He has got 13, that is a healthy return with 12 to 13 games to go.”
Austin’s Midas touch in front of goal did elude him on the opening day, the striker missing a penalty in Hull’s 1-0 win at Loftus Road.
Bruce will be hoping that rare off-day is repeated at the KC, where a potentially pivotal meeting between two rivals bidding to escape relegation trouble will be played out.
The Tigers’ chief is also keen for his own forward line to fire, as new arrival Dame N’Doye looks to build on a fine home debut that brought a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa.
N’Doye, 30 today, joined from Lokomotiv Moscow on the final day of this year’s January window, meaning Bruce has three strikers at his disposal that cost the club £20m.
Record-signing Abel Hernandez accounted for half of that outlay, but he has found life hard in England despite scoring three times in his first five outings for the Yorkshire club.
“Abel played his best game for us (against Everton on New Year’s Day) and, unfortunately, then picked up an injury,” said Bruce when asked about the £10m capture from Serie A side Palermo.
“It always seems to have been stop-start for him. But I have seen him train this week and some of the things he has done have shown me he will be a fantastic player here.
“He has terrific talent and is a fantastic finisher, so natural. We just have to be patient. It is great when people hit the ground running like N’Doye.
“But, if you remember, Abel did that as well. He got a wonderful goal against West Ham (on his debut) and everyone was waxing lyrical. But he has found it tough.
“He had to go off on international duty after signing, going through time zones. For the first three months, he seemed stop-start.
“Then, we got him up and running only for the injury to come along. That set him back as well. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be a fantastic player. He just needs to adapt to here. For example, he is finding it difficult with the language. Like me if I went to Spain, to be fair. I would struggle, bit like Moyesy (David Moyes) did the other night when I was watching on television.
“A lot of players from abroad do struggle to adapt, at first. It can be rare (to settle straight away). Mind, I have said it before but the African boys do tend to handle it better than most.
“The intensity, the physicality of it is something they adapt to. N’Doye did against Villa.
“I have seen Hernandez shaking his head at timesas if to say, ‘What is all this about?’
“That is the way it is. If I took you to where he played in Italy, you’d be asleep in the first 10 minutes. So, it is a big change for him.”
Bruce had been hoping to welcome back N’Doye’s fellow countryman, Mohamed Diame, into the squad today after three months out with injury.
However, a setback in training has put those plans on hold as the Senegal midfielder continues his rehabilitation.
“We have to be careful with Mo,” said the Hull manager. “He has been out since December 3 at Everton. It will, though, be nice to see him available for selection and play a few games, as he could prove pivotal.”