Warren Joyce admits he’s relishing the prospect of going ‘nose-to-nose with a man from whom he’s spurned ‘two or three’ job offers in the past.
Joyce and his Wigan Athletic side head down the M6 this afternoon to Aston Villa, looking to extend their unbeaten away sequence to six matches – and haul themselves out of the bottom three in the process.
Standing in his way is Steve Bruce, who has overseen a resurgence at Villa since taking over in mid-October. And who, if he’d had his way in the past, would have worked with Joyce on more than one occasion.
“I know Steve very well, and have tremendous respect for everything he’s achieved in the game – as a player and as a manager,” Joyce revealed.
“I’m looking forward to going head-to-head with him – or even nose-to-nose!
“Going back as far as 1995, his lad (Alex) was playing for me at United Under-16s, so we go back a long time – even going back to when he was a player at Norwich and Gillingham.
“He’s probably offered me two or three jobs along the way as a coach or an assistant manager, so we have a decent relationship. Things sometimes don’t pan out, but I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him.”
Villa have picked up markedly under Bruce, and remain on the fringes of the play-offs despite last week’s setback at Leeds.
“They’ve got a wealth of talent down there, a fantastic squad both on the pitch and on the bench – and probably in the stand as well,” Joyce acknowledged.
“He’s got a very clear vision of how he wants to go about things, and he’s had a tremendous amount of success doing it.
“Certainly at the start of the season they were among a group of clubs that were expecting automatic promotion.
“We’re under no illusions at the size of task facing us.”
Not that Latics will be travelling south with anything vaguely resembling fear.
“I think to say you fear someone going into a game is the wrong message to send,” Joyce insisted.
“We’re obviously looking forward to a challenge, of pitting ourselves against a team that’s perceived to be up there.
“But you should never feel inferior, or even superior, because that might stop you doing the right things. You’ve got to be consistent in your approach – whether you’re playing a non-league team or Barcelona.
“You’ve got to do the same things, and that’s about stopping them and also hurting them at the other end.
“If you feel inferior or superior, football has a funny way of biting you on the backside.
“That’s my approach to life as a footballer and a coach – and it’s something I’m trying to instil into the players.
“If you get too much of a buzz that you’re at Villa Park, or you don’t get a buzz because you’re going to a small ground...that’s not why you’re in football.
“Regardless of whether there’s 75,000 in the stadium or nobody, you still have your own demands as a manager of what you want your team to do. That doesn’t change.”