STEVE BRUCE puffs out his cheeks when talk turns to tomorrow’s impending landmark.
Sheffield Wednesday’s visit to Elland Road will be his 900th game in management.
“That is a lot of Saturday afternoons and a lot of Tuesday nights,” says Bruce. “It is quite remarkable, really, to think this will be my 900th game as a manager – and what a game to reach that milestone, Leeds United away.”
Bruce’s previous as the captain of Manchester United means he is never going to win any popularity contests in LS11.
But even among those who will not countenance wearing anything red due to their dislike of the Old Trafford club there will surely be a grudging respect for his managerial achievements.
Promotion to the Premier League is not easy, as Leeds know better than most 15 years after dropping out of the elite.
Bruce boasts four on his CV. The 58-year-old had high hopes of bagging a fifth last May, too, only for his Aston Villa side to lose in the play-off final against Fulham at Wembley.
He also took Hull City to the FA Cup final and then into Europe for the first time in the club’s history. No mean achievement at a club who had to wait more than a century to play in the top flight.
Plenty, therefore, for Bruce to look back on with pride ahead of tomorrow’s milestone match.
“I have been fortunate to manage nine different clubs,” said the Owls chief to The Yorkshire Post. “It is remarkable how many of those have been in Yorkshire, especially as my career as a player was spent elsewhere – but for a few games at the end with Sheffield United.
“Hull City obviously stands out. We had some special times. If I can replicate what we achieved at Hull here then I will be happy.
“That is the thing with this job. There are difficult times, but the successes that come along – if you are lucky – make all the hard work and pain worthwhile.”
Bruce’s first steps in management came at Bramall Lane. He stayed just one season, but packed in the sort of experiences that, while testing at the time, can be priceless for a rookie boss.
The 1998-99 campaign saw United finish eighth in the second tier, but this tells only half the story of a sometimes chaotic first job, which included Bruce being threatened with arrest for ordering his players off the field in an FA Cup tie at Arsenal and coping with the constant boardroom upheaval that eventually saw so many chief executives pass through the club he lost count.
His next posting at Huddersfield Town was no less eventful. Bruce’s side were sitting at the summit of the old First Division midway through his one and only season in charge of the Terriers only to finish eighth. The sale of Marcus Stewart to promotion rivals Ipswich Town in March still rankles with both Bruce and the club’s supporters.
Short stints at Wigan Athletic and Crystal Palace followed before Bruce’s career as a manager finally hit its stride at Birmingham City.
“Birmingham was a job I really needed,” he recalls. “I had a wonderful six and a half years there, I really put down roots and my career needed that.”
The first two of his four promotions to the Premier League came at St Andrews. All these years on, however, the second of those successes still galls someone whose fiercely competitive nature as a player helped lay the foundations for Manchester United’s dominance of English football under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“It all ended in a bit of an anti-climax,” he says. “We lost to Preston on the final day, which allowed Sunderland – of all the clubs – to come through and finish as champions.
“That was disappointing, even though promotion had been the target all along, and you always remember your first, which also came with Birmingham in the (2003) play-offs.
“We did it the hard way, as usual. We were unbeaten in something like the final dozen games, but missed out on automatic. We then drew against Millwall at home in the play-offs before going down there and winning it in the final minute.
“Then in the final we beat Norwich on penalties. Real drama, but what a great feeling.”
Bruce’s return to Yorkshire came in 2012. Hull, even allowing for the club’s brief stay in the Premier League under Phil Brown, seemed a strange calling off point.
His friends said as much when news seeped out about his impending appointment. Bruce, though, proved those doubters wrong by leading Hull to the most successful period in their history.
Two promotions, plus the 2014 Cup final appearance that saw the Tigers race into a 2-0 lead against Arsenal at Wembley before succumbing in extra-time will never be forgotten in the East Riding.
Now, though, Bruce has a still newish club and new targets in a job he admits has changed beyond recognition since taking those early steps across the Steel City at Bramall Lane.
“Management has changed so much over the years,” he adds. “That is the case across life. I bet your game at The Yorkshire Post has seen a lot of changes over the years, too.
“The key, as you get older, is to embrace those changes and find a way to make things work. You might not always agree with what has to be done, but you adapt and take things forward.”