Scotland’s captain is arguably the best left-back in the world but he wasn’t eight years ago when the Geordie, then at Hull City, took a punt on him. And although Bruce can count himself as being among the baby boomer generation he clearly didn’t spend his youth on Tyneside reading comics.
Had he done so, he might have understood the reference from legendary ex-Burnley chief Stan Ternent who was scouting for him. Bruce said: “I told Stan: ‘I need some energy in this side – go and see if you can find me a couple of young ones.’
“He phoned me a couple of weeks later and said: ‘I’ve found a Billy Whizz for you.’ I replied: ‘Who the **** is Billy Whizz?’ I didn’t have a clue – apparently, he was a character in ‘The Beano’ – a lad who can run phenomenally fast. I saw him and thought: ‘Stan’s right. He’s Billy Whizz, this kid.’
“I brought him in to strengthen the squad but my left-back at the time, Maynor Figueroa, picked up an injury. We played Stuttgart in pre-season and we were in this gigantic, cavernous Mercedes Stadium and I put Andy in. I just thought to myself: ‘What the hell have we got here?’”
It soon became clear. Signed from Dundee United for £2.8m after a stand-out first campaign at Tannadice in which he was named Scottish Young Player-of-the-Season, Robertson was, pardon the pun, up and running. Although he still clearly had to get up to speed in the dressing-room, as his boss revealed. He said: “We organised a club outing to the races – and Jake Livermore set him up – good and proper. Jake had told him to get a load of beers in. Andy duly obliged.
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“He was only 20 years old and was staggering under the weight of two huge Tesco carrier bags when he tried to get on the coach with them. Two bags – rammed full of Carlsberg. He clambered aboard and I’ve stopped him and said: ‘Where do you think you’re going with them?’ He just looked at me and said: ‘What’s the matter?’ I said: ‘You’re supposed to be elite athletes – get that ****ing beer off this ****ing coach.’ He was absolutely terrified. Petrified. I think he thought I was going to sack him – or smack him. The lads were absolutely howling with laughter at the back. Did I let them have the beer? What do you think? But he learned a lesson. Next time, he asked.”
Bruce can justifiably be proud of the role he played in shaping the career of Scotland’s captain, now 28. He also gave Jordan Henderson his debut at Sunderland and speaks with genuine fondness about his former charge. He said: “Watching Andy progress to the level where he is now has been one of the nicest parts of management. Both him and Jordan. Smashing lads. But Andy’s energy is incredible. I’ve seen the statistics. He’s running 12,500m with 1,500m of that at high intensity. Those are huge numbers and he does it week after week after week. He has a huge determination to succeed. That’s what marks him down as different. He arrived at Hull and he thought: ‘I’m going to have a right good go at this.’
“And he did the same at Liverpool. And he’s flourished. Two years ago, he invited me into his box at Anfield to watch a game. I think it was a Champions League game against Roma. I was so pleased for him. As a manager, it’s one of the best parts of the game – I’m delighted to have played a little part in his development. He’s now one of the first names on Jurgen Klopp’s team-sheet. One of the best left-backs in the world playing for one of the world’s best teams. Not bad, that, is it?”