STEVE Bruce says he has been left confused and hurt by claims in a national newspaper that he has been involved in ‘race rows’ with Marcos Angeleri and Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier.
And the Sunderland boss says that a look at the teams he has assembled over the years shows how ridiculous it is to suggest he has any agenda against any race or nationality.
The claims were made in the Sun newspaper earlier this month after Sunderland defender Marcos Angeleri made critical comments of his club boss.
The Argentinian full-back has failed to make an impact since joining Sunderland from Estudiantes last summer in a £2m deal and has played just 75 minutes of first-team football this season.
Unsurprisingly, he is unhappy at the situation and while on international duty last week gave an interview to a South American radio station which included the comments: “The boss doesn’t talk to me, he doesn’t even say hello to me when he sees me. I think he doesn’t like me because I’m not English.”
The Sun ran that story under a headline ‘Bruce In New Race Row’, making reference to comments by Villa boss Gerard Houllier in January – in the wake of Darren Bent’s acrimonious move to Villa Park – which accused Bruce of attacking him because he was an “easy target” as he was a “foreign manager.”
But today, Bruce has defended his reputation, pointing out that his current 25-man first-team squad includes 11 foreign players from nine different countries – three Ghanaians and one player each from Belgium, Argentina, Nigeria, Paraguay, Benin, Belgium, Holland and Egypt.
The Black Cats have taken the unusual step of banning The Sun from press conferences and games at the Stadium of Light, while Bruce considers whether to take legal action.
“I’m deeply upset,” said Bruce. “So much so, that the club has banned The Sun.
“A ban is something I’ve never had at any of the clubs I have managed – I’ve never deemed it necessary, even though some pretty hurtful things have been written about me over the years. But sometimes you have to make a stand.
“There comes a time where you have to defend your reputation, and I am considering whether to go down the legal route in this case.
“In today’s world, there is nothing more damaging than someone suggesting you are racist. Of all things that have been thrown at me over the years, that is the charge that hurts the most.
“I have got no problem with criticism, I learned a long, long time ago that it’s part and parcel of the job and I never take it personally. But the thing I find really disturbing is a national newspaper going down that route when you look at the make-up of the team I have got here.
“I have always tried to look further afield for players, more so than the vast majority of managers – at Wigan I brought in a lot of South Americans, here I have brought in South Americans and Africans. It’s ridiculous to accuse me of being racist.”
Angeleri returns to training today after an international call-up, and will feel the displeasure of the club, even though Bruce admits he has some sympathy with the player’s plight.
“I’ve left out a player who I paid a lot of money for and he has had his say,” shrugged Bruce.
“I’m not too upset if a player has a pop because he’s not getting in the team because if I was in that position I would feel the same way. I try to treat him with respect but I’m not picking him, so of course I can understand his frustration.
“There is a line you should not cross though.
“I will deal with Marcos when he returns and it will be kept in-house. Obviously he will be severely reprimanded, but for the newspaper to have treated it in that way is just ridiculous.”
The Sun’s press office was unavailable for comment at the time of the Echo going to print.