The Wigan Athletic chairman, Dave Whelan, will fly in from Barbados this morning to be reunited with the man whose services, he yesterday confirmed, have been secured to turn Wigan into a "fighting team" in the Premier League.
Though there are a few formalities to resolve today, talks with Bruce at the JJB yesterday ended with an agreement which should see him unveiled tomorrow, followed in around a month by his assistant Eric Black.
Black will stay in temporary charge at St Andrew's until Christmas to allow the proposed takeover of the club by the Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung. The deadline for the takeover has been extended to 23 December but Whelan expects Black at the JJB by the turn of the year to work with Bruce, the man he first signed as Wigan's manager for a six-week spell at the end of the 2000-01 season.
"When Paul Jewell decided he was not going to come back I was a little bit disappointed, but Steve Bruce is the guy we wanted," Whelan said yesterday. "I'm delighted we've got him, I think he's a big loss for Birmingham and a big signing for Wigan Athletic – one of the best young managers in the land. Under Steve Bruce we know Wigan will be a fighting team."
Whelan confirmed that Wigan would pay Birmingham £3m compensation as part of the deal, on top of the £2m per year he is paying him to swap one relegation battle for another. "What he earns he deserves," Whelan said of Bruce's four-year contract. "He will keep us out of relegation problems and the fans will be delighted we've got him."
Whelan admitted that he had not been best pleased by Bruce's decision to walk away from the JJB for a job at Crystal Palace six years ago, though that has not clouded his thinking. "I was annoyed when he walked away, but I didn't give him a contract, and he came for the last six weeks of the season," Whelan said.
For Bruce, the deal means a trebling of his weekly earnings – which were around £15,000 at St Andrew's – and the prospect of collecting an expected £15m to spend in the transfer window. Whelan anticipates Bruce wanting " a midfielder player and maybe a striker" and says he will provide both.
Birmingham's owners had warned Yeung that he should confirm the new contract they had verbally agreed with Bruce and, with Black set to join Bruce, prospects now seem grim for City, whose approaches to the former Tottenham Hotspur manager, Martin Jol, to replace Bruce were rebuffed.
Bruce will be heartened by the expected return to the side of Emile Heskey, whom he signed for Birmingham at the end of the 2003-04 season and was desperately disappointed to see leave for Wigan in July last year. Heskey's metatarsal break on 15 September prompted the run of bad form which saw Bruce's predecessor as manager, Chris Hutchings, leave the JJB and he is expected back in training next week. But the fixture list is less edifying: Wigan travel to Arsenal on Saturday.