FA Cup final 2014: Hull boss Steve Bruce, the man and the manager

Robbie Savage

Ahead of Saturday's FA Cup final between Hull City and Arsenal, BBC Sport's Robbie Savage gives his memories of playing with and under Tigers manager Steve Bruce at Manchester United and Birmingham.

From banter to verbal batterings, how Bruce puts family first and why the pair fell out and made up again, Savage explains what makes his old boss an inspiration as he goes for his first major trophy as a manager.

I have known Steve Bruce since 1991. I was 16 and in the Manchester United youth team. I wanted to buy his car - I will never forget it, a beautiful white VW Golf convertible - but I was only on £29.50 a week and I could not afford it.

Bruce was first-team captain and one of my heroes. Part of the reason for that was the way he treated us young players.

Each morning he would always say hello and have a bit of banter with us. He acted as though I was his team-mate, which made me feel great.

He was the same when he signed me for Birmingham in the summer of 2002. I loved playing for him - everybody did - and he looked after me.

Steve Bruce and Robbie Savage

In the September of my first season at the club, we were in a hotel the night before playing Liverpool at Anfield. I got a phone call telling me my mum had had a stroke.

Steve was brilliant. He told me to go home and not to worry. Nothing was a problem for him. He said "play if you want to, ring me tomorrow and let me know. You can have a week or two weeks off, whatever you need."

He put me and my mum ahead of the team. I thought, 'well, this guy obviously cares about me'.

I went back home that night and went to see my mum in hospital. She said "go and play and make me proud".

I phoned Steve the next morning to let him know and he just said "as long as you are OK. If you want to play, then you are in my team". I ended up having a good game in a 2-2 draw. My mum made a full recovery.

Whatever the situation, he dealt with it the right way. A few months later, I had a fight with our goalkeeper Nico Vaesen in training.

I had a go at him about his kicking, which was poor. He grabbed me by the throat and I punched him and cut his lip. I could have been in big trouble.

Bruce brought us upstairs to his office and said 'you have had it out and now get on with it', simple as that. That was the end of it.

I was in a position at Birmingham then where I was playing so well that I think that is why he gave me some leeway.

As a player, that is what you want from your manager. If you know you have got his full support then you grow in confidence and you want to play for him. It worked for me.

Falling out and making up

Like every manager, with Bruce there is a line you don't cross. You could take the mick and have some banter with him but if you went too far, you would know about it.

I felt his wrath a few times and I particularly remember him hammering me after an FA Cup tie against Sunderland in my second season at St Andrew's, when I was one of the team's key players.

With a few minutes to go in the game, I looked across and saw the board with my number on it. I thought it must have been a sub for them but, no, Bruce was taking me off.

Steve Bruce and Robbie Savage

I was sulking on the bench and then in the dressing room afterwards. I asked him why he had substituted me when I thought I had played well.

He absolutely battered me, telling me it was not all about me, it was about what was best for the team.

I did get the last laugh that time, though. I ended up being named man-of-the-match so I got given some champagne. When I got on the team bus I put it on his seat and said 'I told you I had a good game!'.

We fell out when I asked to leave Birmingham to join Blackburn. I was so desperate to play under Mark Hughes that I tried to engineer the move.

Bruce wanted me to stay and told me "you are making the wrong decision and you will regret it". I looked him in the eye when I said I was going anyway, and felt like I had massively let down a friend.

But we made up a couple of years later. I saw him before Rovers played Birmingham at Ewood Park and went straight over and apologised for the way I had behaved.

He gave me a big hug and said that he totally understood. I am really glad about that because I owe Brucie a lot for my career.

He is a fantastic character - the type of guy I would always love to go for a pint with at the end of the season and you would always have a great time with.

Old-school training, not science studies

That Birmingham team I played in was a great group of lads. All hard-working, with one or two who had some flair. We all enjoyed playing for Bruce.

I don't know whether he has changed now but, back then, he used old-school methods in training. He was not into the scientific side of football.

What he did was make training very enjoyable, with a serious nature to it.

Hull City manager Steve Bruce watches his players warm-up in training ahead of the FA Cup final

Every morning we would warm up with box drills - where you have eight or nine players in a box passing the ball - and one or two in the middle trying to get it back.

We would split into two groups to do it. Bruce would sometimes say "right, Premier League winners over here", and there would just be him in one box, and all the players in the other.

He never won an England cap despite being one of the best defenders in the country for many years. So I would say back to him 'internationals over here'. He would love it.

In terms of how he sets up his team, he has changed. With us it was always a 4-4-2 formation. With Hull, it has sometimes been a 3-5-2 shape.

But what is the same is that his players were and still are well-drilled. You always know your job in a Steve Bruce team but he still lets you play with some freedom. He wants his team to try to pass the ball, not just lump it forward.

Yes, he also knows how to organise a team defensively and he will have a game-plan for the Gunners but not once did he ever say to us that we were going out to play for a draw.

In training this week, the Hull players will be doing the same drills as any other week. We would never do anything different before any game depending on who we were playing - we treated every other team the same, no matter who they were.

Like Hull, we had some fantastic results against bigger teams.

When Mellberg helped Bruce inspire us

I played under Bruce for three years at Birmingham and he believed he could win every game we went into.

It will be the same on Saturday when he takes his Hull side to Wembley for the FA Cup final.

Arsenal are the big favourites but that won't bother Brucie. He will pick a team that will fight for him, and he will find a way of making his players believe they can win.

This Hull team reminds me a lot of Birmingham in our first season after Bruce signed me in 2002.

We were newly promoted to the Premier League and everyone thought we would go straight back down. Just like Hull have this season, we proved people wrong.

We had our first top-flight derby against Aston Villa in 16 years just after we got promoted and Villa defender Olof Mellberg said before the game that he had never heard of any of our players.

Bruce pinned Mellberg's newspaper article up in our dressing room for us to see and told us just before we ran out to "remember those words". That was typical of how he worked. He could always find a different way to inspire us.

It fired me up in particular because I had played for Leicester in the Premier League for the previous five years and had not lost against Villa in any of the 12 matches I had played against them in that time.

We won 3-0 that night, and I had a great game in midfield - I was man-of-the-match. Mellberg had a shocker by the way, and I made sure he knew it!

Bruce knew we were underdogs and that we were all fighters, and he knew how to get people playing for him, whatever the opposition or occasion.

All of that will be crucial for the Tigers at Wembley.

Have Hull got any hope?

Even with Bruce in charge, it is very difficult to see Hull beating Arsenal on Saturday.

The Gunners are the better side and they know they have to win the FA Cup to end their nine-year wait for a trophy, so there is no way they will be at all complacent.

I would love to see Bruce lifting the cup and winning his first piece of silverware as a manager, but I just cannot see it happening.

Even so, for what he has done at Hull this season, he is up there for me with Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers, Crystal Palace's Tony Pulis and Sunderland's Gus Poyet as one of the managers of the year.

Hull City boss Steve Bruce

Bruce has been overlooked a bit because he did not have a spectacular run of form like those three did in the second half of the season.

He did not need to have one. One of his biggest achievements was that Hull did not take time to adjust to the top flight like many newly promoted teams. They were never in a relegation fight.

Whatever happens at Wembley, what he has done at Hull - firstly by winning promotion in his first season and keeping them up and taking them to the FA Cup final in his second - has underlined how under-rated he is.

Robbie Savage was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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