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I didn’t talk with Guochuan Lai once while I was West Brom boss…..



I didn’t speak to Guochuan Lai once while I was West Brom manager

Former West Brom boss Steve Bruce has told BirminghamLive he didn’t have any contact with outgoing Albion owner Guochuan Lai

Steve Bruce has revealed he didn’t once speak with former West Brom controlling shareholder Guochuan Lai during his ill-fated spell in charge at The Hawthorns in 2022. Bruce was installed as Valerien Ismael’s replacement in the February before he was sacked following a poor series of results in October of the same year, results which left the Baggies in the Championship relegation zone.

During those eight months in charge, Bruce – who oversaw the recruiting of the likes of John Swift, Jed Wallace and Okay Yokuslu, but who was left bemused by the club’s failure to secure moves for Josh Onomah and Steven Alzate on transfer deadline day that summer – worked on a daily basis with then chief executive Ron Gourlay, who appointed the former Birmingham City and Aston Villa manager in the first instance.

He didn’t once, though, have any communication with the lesser spotted Lai, whose last game in attendance came towards the end of Ismael’s reign in January 2022, in a 1-1 draw with Cardiff City. That was despite the fact, upon Ismael’s sacking, Lai naming himself as chairman in place of compatriot Li Piyue. A visit to Albion’s training ground at the beginning of the year brought hope of improved communication, but Lai failed to deliver on that.

“I never had any contact with the previous regime at all, which tells you something. I just spoke with Ron. That tells you everything about the time. It was difficult,” Bruce said in an interview with BirminghamLive .

Lai has now agreed to sell his majority stake in West Bromwich Albion Group (which includes the club), of which he owns almost 88%, to Shilen Patel and his father Kiran via their company Bilkul Football WBA. Bruce hopes the changing of hands at the very top of the club will bring out improvements in many guises, not least a line of contact between the ownership and the fanbase.

“I don’t know much about the new owners, but with ownership, if there’s no stability at the top, and we’ve seen the differences at all these clubs, it doesn’t have to pump millions into clubs,” he said. “The supporters care about their club and how it’s looked after. The biggest thing is the communication, and if they’ve got no communication and there’s no face to it then it’s difficult for everybody concerned.

“I really hope the new owners help, obviously, and everybody gets behind it. It’s a great club, but it needs putting in the right direction. When clubs are put in the right direction from the top, we’ve seen it filter all the way through to everybody concerned. When there’s staleness at the top, it’s the same around the club. The manager, the chief executive, the chairman, the owner… they’re running it, and they’re in the firing line and they have to become accountable.

“I can only imagine that Ron found it so difficult that he eventually walked away. I hope now the club can move forward because it seems to have been stuck for a while. A lot of clubs, the way they are there’s no leadership at the very top, and then it’s difficult for the manager, CEO, chairman.. .everybody. The supporters, too, who turn up in their thousands week in, week out.”

Bruce maintains that, on his watch, Albion weren’t too far away from clicking; they won only one of their first 13 matches at the beginning of last season, but went close in a number of others without ever getting over the line. A goalless draw at home to Luton Town, who it transpired would clinch promotion to the Premier League later that season under a different manager of their own, proved to be Bruce’s Hawthorns death knell.

“I believe we were close,” Bruce reflects. “We obviously didn’t win enough of the first 13 games, but we drew about eight of them. It wasn’t as though as we were getting beat every week. It was frustrating. I was just disappointed and I always knew that they’d be near the play-offs, like they are now and let’s hope that they’re good enough. They’ve done one or two bits of business but it’s still the same core of players that have been there for a while.”

The former Manchester United defender, who has managed a host of clubs including Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle, Sunderland, Wigan and Hull, as well as those aforementioned sides in the West Midlands, is currently experiencing his longest spell outside of football management since his first gig, at Sheffield United back in 1998.

While the offers have arrived in the 16 months since Bruce took his leave from the Black Country, nothing has yet presented itself which has taken his fancy, and he is on the look-out for something a little more interesting than a relegation battle for the time being. In the meantime, though, if nothing comes about in the near future, the cricket fanatic intends to fly to India to watch the fifth Test in Dharamshala next month, provided England can level up the series before then.

“I’ve been off for over a year, I need to get back to work I think,” Bruce said. “I’ve been building this house for the last couple of years, which has kept me busy – not that I did much to the house itself! – but it kept me sane. I’m just looking to get back in, we’ll see. The one or two offers that I’ve had haven’t been for me.

“I’ve had three or four domestic ones. I don’t want to say which ones, because I don’t think that would be right, but like I did with West Brom – and I know things didn’t work out there in the end – I’m tired of going in somewhere where I’m seen as a firefighter, going into clubs when they’re in the s***!”

Recently linked with the South Korea job, after Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked following their semi-final finish in the Asian Cup recently, Bruce added: “It’d be something different. I was asked a question on a podcast and I said I’d be interested, of course I would, in any national job. It’d be something different. We’ll see what happens, you never know whether they’re just flying kites! If anything happened…but there’s been no official approach. I haven’t had a phone call. It’ll come out in the wash eventually.”

Then you have the lucrative Saudi Pro League, which has attracted a host of previously English based players and coaches – and chief executives, too, for Gourlay himself has recently headed out there for his next challenge after departing Albion last summer. Gourlay is CEO for Al Ahli, which has Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, Allan Saint-Maximin and Frank Kessie in their ranks.

“I’m not going to dismiss anything anymore,” Bruce admits. “If Saudi is there, and we’ve seen – I’m not going to tell lies – the offers made…but it’s not just about that for me. I was interested to see that Dean Smith, for example, had taken the job at Charlotte [in MLS]. It’s something a little bit different. Who knows? We’ll see.”

One man who, at this stage, has no chance of reuniting with Bruce in his next venture is son Alex. The former defender has taken after his dad in heading into management, with non-league Macclesfield Town, and they’ve won 14 of their first 20 matches with Bruce Jr in charge. Like with Stephen Clemence, who is now at Gillingham, Bruce’s protegees are heading off out on their own.

“Alex has had a wonderful start to his managerial career,” Bruce added. “I think he’s played 20 games and he’s lost three and drawn three, so he’s won 14. They’ve got to the final of the FA Trophy, for a team which is two below the Conference, that’s a wonderful achievement. He’s doing very well, I’m pleased for him.”