Steve Bruce has nonetheless been in demand throughout that time, serving seven different clubs with varying degrees of success.
As Alex Ferguson’s captain at Manchester United, helping the club to dominate English football throughout the 1990s, he established a reputation as a serial winner.
Unlike Ryan Giggs and the famed “Class of 92” who eventually joined him in the first team, however, Bruce had to fight his way up from the lower divisions after being rejected by the club of his boyhood dreams.
That was Newcastle United, one of several clubs in the north of England who turned down the chance to sign him as a young midfielder playing for Newcastle Schools.
He would have become an apprentice plumber had lowly Gillingham in the south-east of the country and the Third Division not taken him on in 1978.
Converted into a powerful central defender, Bruce became an England youth international, moved after six years to join Norwich City in the top division and made the step up to Manchester United in 1987, a year after Ferguson’s arrival at the club.
With Gary Pallister alongside him in a formidable defensive partnership, United won almost a dozen trophies, including the Premier League and FA Cup three times each and the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup.
Bruce’s most celebrated contribution was to score two headed goals in stoppage time at home to Sheffield Wednesday to earn a crucial victory in the run-in to United’s first title for 26 years in 1993.
Yet unlike Pallister, he was never selected for England.
For one reason or another, managerial stints at his first four clubs – Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town, Wigan Athletic and Crystal Palace – were all short ones.
He finally settled at Birmingham City, where he had played after Manchester United.
In six years they were promoted twice and relegated once, but he became unhappy under the controversial new owner Carson Yeung and left for two years with Wigan Athletic.
Regularly linked with his first love, Newcastle, he finally made it back to the north-east in 2009 but as manager of their big rivals Sunderland.
Sacked two years later, Bruce joined Hull and took them back to the Premier League in his first season, guiding them to safety and reaching the club’s first FA Cup final.
Since the semi-final victory by 5-3 over Sheffield United at Wembley, the team’s form has tailed off with four defeats in the last five games, including a 3-0 home loss to Arsenal.
“Of course we’re rank outsiders,” Bruce told the club’s website (www.hullcitytigers苏州纹眉网,).
“I think that is the actual beauty of the FA Cup.
“It’s like what we saw last year. Manchester City were huge favourites but Wigan went and won the thing.
“For me, things like that are why this is the greatest competition. There’s always been shocks and it’s a one-off game.
“It’s the mighty Arsenal with all their history, tradition, huge support and a huge club against the smaller club and the attraction is the ability of the smaller club to turn them over.
“The FA Cup Final is a place where heroes are made.”
His own dreams may once have been about achieving that in a Newcastle shirt but having received a winner’s medal three times with Manchester United, Bruce is now desperate to become a winning manager at last.
(This story was refiled to fix headline)
(Editing by Ed Osmond)