Manager worries the club does not have the resources to cope with European competition despite their FA Cup final heroics
When the prospect of European football was thrown at Steve Bruce, the Hull City manager looked as if he suddenly needed to lie down in a dark room. It was trying enough trying to put on a brave face as the losing finalist in a competition that means a considerable amount to him personally, and to his club in terms of the prestige and enjoyment it yielded this season. Contemplating the double-edged sword that awaits with European football made him laugh wryly.
"We have to look forward to European football," he said. "We're going to have to try and enjoy it. Whether we've got the resources, whether we've got the man-power. I think we've got four [European] games by the end of August. And for a club like ours, I don't think we're ready for that."
It speaks volumes about what lies ahead for a club of Hull's means that he had not even got to grips with the regulations about how many homegrown players are required, which presents an extra challenge. "We'll have to give it a shot when it comes round," reckoned Bruce. "Now is not the time to reflect on that, it's the time to dust ourselves down, enjoy our holiday and come out and play in Europe."
The Europa League has proved a mixed blessing for English clubs in recent years. Fulham went as far as the final in 2010, losing to Atlético Madrid, but the teams participating in the 2013-14 tournament all sacked their managers at some point during the season. André Villas-Boas left Tottenham Hotspur in December, Wigan dismissed Owen Coyle, also before Christmas, before Swansea City parted company with Michael Laudrup in February. The dual challenge of domestic and continental football can be a complicated juggling act with which to contend.
Bruce, however, was reluctant to let any thoughts of a potentially gruelling season to come detract from the extraordinary strides taken by his players which culminated in that enthralling final against Arsenal.
"It's been quite a remarkable, wonderful, couple of years," he said. "We were very close to winning the FA Cup. We were 2-0 up against the mighty Arsenal. We have to make sure this isn't the end of the story. Of course, we have to improve; we have to get better; we can't stand still.
"So we will do. But considering we were without our big two strikers I thought [Matty] Fryatt in particular was fantastic. So we have to move on and get bigger and better and stronger, stay again and get ready for the new start."
The Hull manager, who took over at the club in 2012 and steered them to promotion to the Premier League in his first season on Humberside, admitted that it should be easier to attract players to sign for the club now that they are playing in Europe. "I hope so," he said. "That's always the challenge.
"We're trying to get bigger and better. We landed two or three really big ones last summer, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, and we've got to try and secure Jake, if we can.
"We will try our best. My job is to make the club grow. We're spending a lot on the academy and its job is to produce some young players. But that's for the future – I'll probably get the sack when it's all in place."
Bruce indicated that he would like to see at least five or six players added in what promises to be a busy summer.
First, however, he cannot wait for some essential time out.
"I'm going to have to [have a break], because I'm absolutely bollocksed. You need to as a manager. The demands on you are exhausting, but thoroughly enjoyable. It's been a great year."
He praised his players for a magnificent campaign. "They are an absolute delight to manage," he said. "They've never caused me a bit of a problem and they are all desperate to do well. You can see that again and the way they played and got stuck in. I think they were terrific."
Was there any consolation in the fact that they played so well? "No, there's not. There's none for me. We've lost. It means nothing to me, the losers' medal. It doesn't go right. But I'll get over it. I've got over it before. But no, it doesn't give me any more satisfaction."
The defender James Chester was delighted to have scored in an FA Cup final but admitted that it did little to ease the disappointment of ultimately falling short against Arsenal.
"It's disappointing, although I've got happy memories too," he said. "After all, not too many get to score in an FA Cup final. That was a bonus. We've had a great season, but to see some new faces would give everyone a lift. We're going to have to be at our best if we're going to do well again.
"Livermore has been massive for us. I'd not seen a lot of Jake before but once he came here, he hit it off straight away. Hopefully there's a deal to be done there. We'll go away now and hopefully there will be a few new faces on our return. It's the gaffer's job to make sure we don't suffer from [second-season syndrome]. That's what he gets paid for."
First though, Bruce will take a hard-earned break. There is considerable promise to reflect upon and build on.