One last chance to use this photo...
It had to happen sooner or later, no matter what people thought. Steve Bruce is back in football after being appointed the new manager of Championship club Hull City earlier this month.
It wasn't the Premier League job he'd have undoubtedly fancied, but the fact is that following a few months of Martin O'Neill making his predecessor's early season struggles at Sunderland look a million times worse than they actually probably were, Bruce is seen as damaged goods and perhaps not quite the safe pair of hands he was once considered. Stepping down into the football league is a good opportunity for him to rebuild a reputation that lies in tatters and we wish him all the best.
But as (we hope) you've no doubt noticed over the last 18 months or so, this is a Sunderland website, not a Steve Bruce one, so what possible ramifications does all this have for us?
Well, first and foremost it may mean some changes amongst the backroom staff. Keith Bertschin and Stephen Clemence, who have proven immensely loyal to Bruce in the past and enjoy long-standing relationships with him, have already been linked.
More worrying, perhaps, is the fact that Bruce is also said to be coveting recently appointed chief scout Bryan 'Pop' Robson, the man responsible for first identifying and then bringing James McClean to Wearside last summer. Whether or not Robson could be lured away is another question entirely, but the fact that Martin O'Neill has his own trusted talent-spotter in Ian Storey-Moore does stoke the flames of this one just a little.
It also hasn't taken long for Bruce to be linked with Sunderland players, either. In his first press conference as Hull manager, he was asked about former Tigers duo Michael Turner and Fraizer Campbell, although appeared to rule out any possibility of being able to bring them back to Humberside. Given the previous connections with the club it is understandable their names came up, but realistically even if Martin O'Neill wanted to offload the pair, it is unlikely they would entertain a move to the Championship.
We do know however that Bruce, like most managers, likes to rely on tried and trusted players. Lee Cattermole was quick to follow him to Sunderland from Wigan and a year later Titus Bramble made the same trip, whilst Charles N'Zogbia was a constant and almost tedious cited transfer target throughout Bruce's tenure at the Stadium of Light. Last year, Sebatian Larsson became the latest player in the Black Cats squad to have been signed twice by Steve Bruce.
Further to Bruce's Sunderland connections, Hull City have Egyptian-born owners, so Ahmed Elmohamady would seem to be an easy link to make. The winger barely featured under Martin O'Neill and has indicated his desire to move on search of first team football this summer, so a reunion with the man who brought him to England and used him pretty regularly would likely appeal.
You also have to wonder about Kieren Westwood. The Ireland international goalkeeper was persistently chased by Bruce when he was on Wearside and since arriving last summer has seen Simon Mignolet firmly establish himself as the club's top goalkeeper. There have also been questions raised over Westwood's relationship with Martin O'Neill after he refused to play against Manchester City on New Year's Day citing a bout of flu. Mignolet stepped into the breach, broken nose and all, and hasn't looked back since. If Hull have a little money to spend, you could see that one being a possibility.
There could be another one of Sunderland's Irishmen featuring heavily in Bruce's thoughts this summer - David Meyler. There has been talk of some kind of a move for Meyler since failing to really break back into the first team picture after a nightmare time with injury, but Bruce is a huge fan. Again, whether or not the player will fancy stepping down a division may prove the key issue, but a loan move may suit everyone. Meyler would get games and his fitness back, O'Neill would be granted some time before making a proper decision on the player's future, and Bruce and Hull would get the services of a fine player for at least a season.
The loan market would also appear to open the door for youngsters Connor Wickham and Louis Laing to get themselves some football on Humberside. Wickham has lacked any real impact at Sunderland since his big-money move from Ipswich last summer but having spent so much on him you'd be surprised if the club were willing to give up on him so quickly. A loan move back to the Championship has been mooted for next season to bolster his development and Hull would now appear to be in a good position to secure a deal should they wish to.
Laing, meanwhile, looked set to break into the first team squad under Bruce, who predicted 'an outstanding future' for the defender. Laing spent much of last season impressing at Wycombe but the club are likely to want him to step up a level next season if they farm him out again.