Bristol City summer signing Chris Brunt is enjoying his new season in the Championship despite being in unfamiliar surroundings, writes Robson McCallister.
The former Northern Ireland international joined on a free transfer from West Bromwich Albion last month after spending 13 years at the Midlands club.
Now, having played a couple of games, the veteran midfielder has shed light on settling in at his new club.
“It was a bit weird, to be fair.” acknowledged Brunt, 35.
“A lot of lads move about quite frequently in their careers and I’ve never had to do that so it was a bit like being the new kid in school again for the first couple of days.”
The only familiar face at the club was City’s new assistant head coach Keith Downing and Brunt has spoken about how congratulating his former West Brom coach initiated discussions.
“I texted him, just saying ‘all the best, hope it all goes well’ and he had asked me what I had been thinking about doing,” revealed Brunt.
“Obviously I wanted to play on for the year and I think the way their squad was made up, they were looking for a bit of experience there.
“He introduced me to the manager (Dean Holden) and the manager was pretty keen to get me to come down so it all worked out pretty well.
“All of the lads have been great with me and the staff have been brilliant as well, so I’ve enjoyed it, to be honest.”
With three Championship promotions with West Brom under his belt, Brunt has similar ambitions for his new side.
“The club’s been sort of there, or thereabouts around the playoffs for the last few years and they, sort-of, tail away at the end,” said Brunt.
“I think that’s maybe what the manager saw in me, a little bit more experience, been around a couple of promotions.
“Last year I didn’t play a lot of football but I was around all season so you sort of know what it takes day-to-day.
“Obviously the Championship is a tough league and dealing with that is a big part of it too.
“Not many of the lads have played Premier League football and obviously they’re all pretty keen to do that so it won’t be for a lack of enthusiasm and effort, definitely not.”
Besides promotion to the Premier League with Bristol City, Brunt also has another goal on his footballing checklist.
“The one thing I probably regretted at West Brom was not getting further in a cup”, revealed Brunt.
“Especially the FA Cup, the first season when we got beaten in the semi-final by Portsmouth.
“It would have been great to get to the final, obviously it’s not as easy as that now especially with all the resources that the big clubs have.
“That would be nice if we could get a decent cup run and possibly have a crack at playing at Wembley.
“I’ve only had that opportunity once in my career, I would like to have an opportunity to do that again.”
During the summer, Brunt found himself as a first-time free agent at the age of 35 and touched upon the reality of the situation.
“It was difficult because it’s the first time in my career I’ve ever experienced that”, commented Brunt.
“You’re waiting for a phone call and nothing’s coming and then all of a sudden it’s a week and then two weeks and you start thinking ‘it’s not great, this’.
“Being the age I’m at, I’m probably not much of an asset for a football club anymore.
“There’s not much value in selling-on.
“From a business sense, a lot of football clubs are probably looking at younger players due to that.
“The amount of football I’ve played and the age I’m at, a team is either going to want you or not.
“That was probably the only real concern I had.
“Lucky enough, Bristol City were pretty keen for me to come down there and it’s worked out pretty well.”
Having amassed over 500 league appearances, Brunt is still focused on his football but is open to a future in coaching, potentially at West Bromwich Albion, which could see him reunite with former teammates-turned coaches.
“I think in the long run it will be something I will definitely try and have a go at,” affirmed Brunt.
“I’m not sure at what level or at what sort of role, but speaking to Mozza (James Morrison) and Boaz Myhill, they seem to be enjoying their roles at the football club.
“Hopefully being there for so long, it might be an opportunity for me at some stage to go back and get on board with some of the stuff that they have been doing.
“I would like to, obviously, at some point after spending so much of my time there.
“West Brom are a big club in the Midlands and at the end of the day, just because I’ve been there for so long, it doesn’t give me a right to go straight back in there as a coach.
“There might be people better qualified than me to do it, so if I do get the chance to do it, I will be wanting to try and make sure I give it my best shot, not just for the sake of it because I was there so long as a player.”
The affinity shared between Brunt and West Brom is well-documented and Brunt touched on his favourite period during his 13 year spell at The Hawthorns.
“I think I learnt the most off Roy Hodgson and the team he built that Steve Clarke took over,” he said.
“The likes of Youssouf (Mulumbu), James Morrison, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley, Steven Reid, Liam Ridgewell, people like that.
“We were all in similar stages of our career and everybody wanted to stay and play in the Premier League.
“Everybody worked together at the same time and progressed.
“When I look back at my time with West Brom, that will probably be the time I enjoyed the most.”
During that time with West Brom, Brunt also found himself listed in the Premier League’s top 10 assist makers of the previous decade with 47 registered to his name.
“I think in a few years when I look back, it will be something I’m proud of,” Brunt acknowledged, in relation to the statistic.
“Possibly not at the time because that was one of my strengths as a player.
“We scored a lot of goals off corners and free-kicks, and that was one of my main jobs in the team.
“It’s always been something since I was a kid, I always took set-pieces, so it was always something I felt pretty confident doing.
“Obviously I’ve seen the list and the other players are forty, fifty million quid players, and then there’s me from West Brom on there.
“It’s great to be held in that esteem on that front, but at the end of the day, that was just my job.”