WEMBLEY hero Mohamed Diame admits Steve Bruce’s shock departure as manager has left the Hull City players feeling like they have lost a “father” figure.
The 55-year-old quit late last week following a breakdown in relations with the Tigers’ board over transfers.
Hull hope to make an appointment early next week after drawing up a five-man shortlist and have already got the interview process under way with several candidates. They are one of only three Premier League clubs yet to make a signing this summer and Bruce had become increasingly frustrated by this inactivity.
The Hull squad were informed of Bruce’s decision at the club’s Cottingham training ground last Friday morning and several of the players are understood to have been left distraught at the news.
“We have to be professional right now,” said Diame, Hull’s goalscoring hero in last May’s Championship play-off final over Sheffield Wednesday, when speaking at the launch of the club’s new £10m record-breaking shirt sponsorship deal with African online betting firm, SportPesa.
“Everyone is really sad because the manager was an important person for us all. He looked after us like a father, to be honest, and to see him go is really sad.
“But we can’t do anything to change what has happened, it is done now and all we can do is think about getting prepared for the new season because it is going to be really tough.”
With just 18 days to go until the visit of champions Leicester City to the KCOM Stadium that will kick off the new Premier League campaign, the Tigers must move quickly to find Bruce’s successor. A contingency plan had been drawn up when Bruce was interviewed for the England job earlier this month.
A shortlist is understood to have been compiled featuring five names from both home and abroad. Former Everton manager Roberto Martinez is believed to be one of those under consideration, while Bruce’s assistant Mike Phelan revealed last weekend his own ambitions to be a manager. Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane have also been linked with the post.
The need for a swift appointment is underlined by Hull heading to Barnsley tonight for their latest pre-season assignment with just 11 senior outfield players.
On the need to strengthen the squad in the wake of losing Allan McGregor, Alex Bruce, Michael Dawson and Moses Odubajo to long-term injuries during pre-season, Diame said: “We don’t have a big enough squad at the minute so what we have to do is look after the young lads and try and get them ready.
“I think some of the young players are thinking they may have an opportunity to do something special this season, so we need to look after them.”
The new three-year sponsorship deal with SportsPesa will involve Hull playing a friendly in the company’s home of Kenya as part of a bid by the African country to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Neither party was yesterday willing to put a figure on the value of the agreement but The Yorkshire Post understands it will be worth £10m over three years.
No date has yet been scheduled for the visit to Kenya, but the most likely time seems early next year. Right now, the focus at the KCOM is on ensuring the Tigers are in a competitive state for a start that, after the visit of Leicester, also includes home clashes with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the opening seven weeks.
“We have to fight,” said Diame, who joined Hull from West Ham United shortly before the closing of the transfer window in the summer of 2014. “It is going to be a fight to stay up and we have to be prepared for that fight. We have to try and keep going and keep working hard because the season will be here really soon and we have to make sure we are ready for it.
“The staff are still there and we keep working in the same way. Nothing has changed for us, just the manager.
“The most important thing at this time of year is to get some minutes into your legs and get ready for the season. The results are not the most important thing. It’s nice to win some games in pre-season, but it is all about fitness for us at this moment in time.”
Asked if the players had held a meeting to discuss the shock turn of events that led to Bruce’s exit. Diame replied: “We are a close enough group already, we didn’t need the manager going to bring us closer together.
“We had a meeting as players, which was all about staying focused because we have to make sure we are ready for the season. We have to work hard at training, focus on the training and focus getting it right and being ready.”