THE common consensus is that Chris Wilder is tackling a difficult job as he attempts to keep Sheffield United in the Premier League. Looking back on his own time in charge of the Blades, however, Steve Bruce is convinced he had things tougher.

At the start of the 1998-99 season, the then 37-year-old was appointed as Sheffield United’s player-manager. To say that he received an immediate crash course in the profession that has subsequently shaped him is something of an understatement.

“It certainly wasn’t easy,” said Bruce, who had an ageing Wilder as part of his playing squad when he agreed to take over at Bramall Lane. “I think I had five different chief executives in the space of a year.

“I remember one Christmas time, we were playing Bristol City and Dean Saunders came whistling down the corridor with his bags. I said, ‘Dean, it’s an hour before we’re leaving on the coach’. He looked at me and said, ‘Has no one told you? I signed for Benfica 20 minutes ago’.

“I knew nothing about it, so that gives you an idea of what it was like. The problem was, I didn’t know who to call to rant and rave at, I could never get an answer. It was difficult, although I’ll always be grateful to them for giving me that opportunity.”

Stung by his 12 months in Sheffield, Bruce hoped for better when he agreed to take over at Huddersfield Town. Instead, he encountered more chaos and confusion. Again, off-field instability hampered his attempts to build a team. Again, he left his post somewhat acrimoniously, wondering if management was really where his future lay.

“I was very close to taking a job with Sky,” he said. “I thought, “Is this (management) really what I want to do? Do I want to put myself in that situation?’.

“After Huddersfield, for the first time in my life, I became a bit reclusive. I never really went out of the house. Thankfully, I was doing my house up so I would do a bit of labouring. I would get the sausage and chips for the lads. I was just Billy normal. I did that for about six or seven months and saved myself 50 quid a day in the labourer’s fee! Did the house get finished? I don’t think so. But it was the first time in my life of thinking, ‘What are you going to do? What are you not going to do?’

Bruce’s exile ended when he was persuaded to take over at Wigan Athletic, and working under Latics owner Dave Whelan and director of football John Benson persuaded him that there was a world away from the chaos he had experienced in his first two managerial posts.

Nevertheless, the difficult start to his career in the dug-out has stood him in good stead, not least when it comes to dealing with the chaos that passes for normality at Newcastle. There have been times in the last four months when his resolve has been tested, but he has been able to take solace by looking back at some of his past experiences.

“Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have taken over at Chelsea as my first job,” he said. “But it’s vitally important you take those different steps and earn your spurs. You have to get an insight into how it is.

“You can’t describe to people how difficult it is and how difficult a job it is. You can do all the coaching badges, go and prepare yourself as best you can, but those badges can never prepare you for the problems you have above you or the problems you have on the pitch. The problems full stop to be honest, because the problems are constant.”