FIFTEEN years have passed since Steve Bruce said goodbye to Manchester United in the twilight of his playing career.
Yet some things never change.
There remains a fascination with the oligarch who took Bruce to Old Trafford and moulded him into one of the most hardened centre-halves in the land.
Bruce, along with every other Premier League manager, will mark the 25th anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as Man United boss, as one of the guests at a gala dinner at Old Trafford Cricket Club tonight.
Doubtless Bruce will be again asked the question he has been posed “50,000 times”, ‘What is Sir Alex like?’
It remains difficult for the Sunderland manager to pinpoint the root of Ferguson’s success, although Bruce believes it stems from the Scot’s knack of putting players through their paces to gauge whether they can handle the intensity of being a Red Devil.
Bruce told the Echo: “It’s hard to describe what he’s like until you’ve worked for him.
“But he sets huge demands and tests you to make sure you’re strong enough to play for him.
“If you are and you pass the test, then he knows you can play for Man U. If you ain’t, there’s not a cat in hell’s chance that you can play at Man U.
“There’s that aura about him, but also a fantastic humility about him which is terrific.
“He treats the girls who clean the dressing rooms as well as he does the centre-forward. Those working class roots have never left him.
“In my opinion, he’s the best there’s ever been. I know you can compare him to the Shankley’s and Clough’s, but look at what he’s done and achieved.
“To still be doing it after 25 years is quite unbelievable.”
On arriving at Old Trafford in the Autumn of 1986, Ferguson’s long-term objective was to supersede the achievements of neighbours Liverpool, who had consigned United to the shade during the 1970s and 80s.
Through the eras of Bruce, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and now Wayne Rooney, United have steamrollered their way past the Merseysiders, with a record 19th league title achieved last May.
But it’s still not enough for Ferguson, who will doubtless have been stung at the thought of Manchester City taking United’s crown after last month’s 6-1 derby win.
The hunger and drive to keep United at the country’s summit burns just as brightly for the former Aberdeen manager, with Sunderland’s opponents on Saturday still the Premier League’s biggest Box Office draw.
“There’s a way Man United play under him,” added Bruce.
“He believes they should play the game way it should be played – going out to win every game in a certain way.
“You never see a negative approach from Man United, they’ve always got a great player or a superstar.
“Anywhere you go to, facing Man United is always the biggest game of the season, whether it’s Shrewsbury or Sunderland - everywhere’s packed.
“In those early days, the big thing was to top Liverpool and that was the only thing he was focused on.
“Of course, they’ve overtaken them now and he just drives himself.
“He’s still fighting the world 25 years on and he thrives on it.”