STEVE Bruce admits keeping players happy at Sunderland will be one of his biggest challenges this season.
The manager is on record as saying that this is the strongest squad he has had in his two-and-a-half years at the Stadium of Light.
And he knows that with that quality, comes the task of keeping players content when they do not get in the starting 11.
He told the Echo: “We’ve strengthened the squad considerably over the summer and I’m very pleased with the players we have here, but I know it will be an important job keeping everyone happy and focused.
“As a manager you can only ever pick 11 players to start a game and inevitably, that’s going to leave players who aren’t in the team disappointed.
“They’ve got my sympathy because there are going to be plenty of games when good players will miss out.
“But as a manager, you’ve got to back your judgement and pick your best team on every single occasion, regardless of who they are or how much they cost.”
Bruce has already shown boldness in his selection decisions this season.
He bought 10 players in the summer, but included only two in the starting line-up to face Liverpool on the opening day of the season – Wes Brown and Seb Larsson.
Keiren Westwood and Craig Gardner, who arrived in the closed season could reasonably have expected to be first-team regulars by now, but have had to bide their time.
And, perhaps most tellingly, skipper Lee Cattermole has been left on the substitute’s bench for several games while Jack Colback and David Vaughan have been given their chance.
It shows the manager will select his team without fear or favour.
Bruce said: “At the start of the season I just wanted to show faith in the players who got us to 10th place in the Premier League last season and I wasn’t prepared just to pitch in all the new signings.
“But we’ve had to make some tough selection decisions already this season and any manager will tell you that picking the team is one of the hardest parts of the job
“We might have not have some of the outstanding individuals we’ve had at the club in my time here – the likes of Danny Welbeck, Darren Bent, Jordan Henderson and Asamoah Gyan – but what we do have now is better overall quality.
“Almost every player in the squad could reasonably expect to be in the starting 11 in every game and it’s going to be an important of my job to make sure players who aren’t in the team still feel very much part of it.”
Bruce knows team spirit is not a problem as things stand and he is determined it will not become an issue.
He said: “You could see that we really wanted it against West Brom and that same togetherness showed against Aston Villa too.
“You don’t get to come back from conceding two goals, two home games in a row, if you don’t have spirit or that togetherness.
“You’ve got to believe in each other and work together if you’re to achieve comebacks like that and I thought their attitude was terrific.
“I think we’ve got a great bunch of lads here now and a good team spirit, but I’m conscious of the fact that as coaching staff, we have to keep that going because its central to us accomplishing anything.”