A YEAR AGO this week, Steve Bruce handed in his resignation at Hull City. Carlos Carvalhal, meanwhile, had just left his post as technical director of a club in Dubai and was looking for a job.
From such inauspicious beginnings, the two men today stand on the verge of writing their name into Yorkshire football folklore as two of the county’s power-houses prepare to go head-to-head at Wembley in world football’s richest game.
Victory for either Hull City or Sheffield Wednesday will bring untold wealth thanks to the £200m windfall that will accompany being part of next season’s Premier League.
Watch our pre-match preview interview with Richard Sutcliffe above
It will also bring weekly visits to Old Trafford, Anfield and all those other wonderful cathedrals of English football.
For the two managers, however, this is about much, much more. Bruce wants a record fourth promotion to the Premier League as redemption for last season’s relegation, while Carvalhal is tantalisingly close to fulfilling his dream of ending Sheffield Wednesday’s 16-year absence from the elite.
Only one of the pair can prevail and Bruce intends it to be him. “Relegation last year was horrible,” the 55-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “I do feel I owe the club a debt after what happened.
“It is why I offered my resignation a day or two after the Manchester United game. Not many people know that. I wanted to make it easy for the owners if they wanted to make a change. I said I would fall on my sword.
“But, to be fair to them, they didn’t. The chairman (Assem Allam) talked me round – and (vice chairman) Ehab, to be fair.
“They both wanted me to stay so I said: ‘Have a week to think about it because we have got to make huge changes’. They did that and then came back to say: ‘Carry on’.
“It was still a difficult time back then, as there was all sorts of doom and gloom flying about the place. But, gradually, we turned things round.”
For Bruce to bounce back from such despair to the verge of an instant return to the top flight is testament to his character.
If anything, though, Carvalhal’s own journey to Wembley has been even more remarkable. A CV that features almost as many jobs as years Wednesday have been out of the top flight hardly pointed last summer towards a managerial coup on the part of the Yorkshire club when the Portuguese was unveiled.
But there is no denying the fine job Carvalhal has done since taking charge at Hillsborough a month or so after leaving United Arab Emirates club Al-Ahli. As he neatly put it recently, the giant has awoken. His task now is to ensure the Owls finish the job today.
“This season we have achieved something fantastic,” said the 50-year-old. “People won’t forget about this for a long time. They will remember our performances (in the Capital One Cup) when we beat Newcastle and Arsenal, when we beat Brighton to reach the play-off final.
“I am proud of my work at Sheffield Wednesday. But I was also proud of the two years me and my staff had in Dubai. We did amazing work with the Academy, we took them from fifth to first position in the country.”
Carvalhal has been no stranger to big games in a career that has included stints in Greece and Turkey along with his native Portugal.
When in charge of Leixoes, he became the first coach to lead a third tier team to the Portuguese Cup final.
The minnows also reached the first round proper of the UEFA Cup. Carvalhal has twice won promotion, while his Vitoria Setubal side appeared the Portuguese League Cup final in 2008.
“Big finals are nothing new,” insists the former Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas coach. “I took a very small team from the third division to the final of the Portuguese Cup. We played against Sporting and we lost 1-0.
“But Leixoes remember that forever because they were a third division team who reached the final. It was an exception, we were the underdogs.
“Sheffield Wednesday are the underdogs now. We are not under pressure. If we had felt pressure in some matches, we wouldn’t be where we are now. We would probably be in the Algarve drinking some beers on our holidays!
“What we have is faith. We are ready to fight and run a lot. I have been asked if Sheffield Wednesday are ready for the Premier League. Let’s see in the final. If we win, we are ready. If we don’t, we aren’t.”
Promotion for Hull would mean a return to a level the club has played at in four of the past eight seasons.
It would also represent a happy end to what has been a tough season, especially in recent weeks when fan protests over the introduction of a controversial new membership scheme have dominated the agenda.
There is also talk of a possible takeover if the Tigers can earn an instant return to the Premier League, meaning today’s play-off final does have a feel of the club being at something of a crossroads.
“The money for being in the Premier League is remarkable and would help the club for years and years,” admitted Bruce, whose own future could be in doubt if Hull fail to go up today with a number of clubs understood to be eyeing the former Manchester United captain.
“This season has been more difficult than when we went up in 2013. Back then, we weren’t even talked about as a threat so there was no expectation.
“There was also the fear everyone might walk through the door following relegation. That only eased once we got to the end of the transfer window in August.
“We have had some ups and down but we are here and on our way to Wembley. We are stuck on a limb here a little bit, no-one really gives a jot about us because of where we are.
“But the Premier League changes that. It opens all sorts of avenues, including bringing in players. We want to do this for the city of Hull.”
Championship play-off final build-up: Pages 2 and 3.