Ranking Sunderland’s 10 best managers of the Premier League era

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Peter Reid

Sunderland have suffered from some pretty rotten managers in the Premier League era – but it hasn’t all been doom and gloom on Wearside in that time.

Sunderland have been relegated from the Premier League four times, three times as the bottom team, but they also finished seventh two seasons in a row around the turn of the millennium and then back in the top half again in 2011.

Throw in a few great escapes, and there are some managers whose names actually aren’t mud in that part of the North East. We couldn’t get to 10 who are liked, though, so here are the 10 least worst instead.

1. Peter Reid

Reid, in many ways, is the architect of the modern Sunderland AFC. He took the club from fighting relegation in the second tier at Roker Park, to fighting for European qualification in the Premier League at the Stadium of Light.

Much of that was down to putting Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn together, and it had an unhappy ending, but Reid was a simply marvellous manager for Sunderland, and probably wasn’t appreciated as much as she should’ve been at the time.

READ: Peter Reid: £500 from the chairman was key to my success at Sunderland

2. Sam Allardyce

Is Sam Allardyce a great manager? No. He’s not even anywhere near as good as he thinks he is. But the fact of the matter is he was tailor-made for Sunderland.

Allardyce bought exceptionally well, got the best from ailing players such as Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul, and produced a brand of direct, aggressive football that got the then-weary Stadium of Light crowd engaged.

Had he not left when he did, Sunderland would still be in the Premier League, there is no doubt at all about that.

3. Roy Keane

Whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you that Roy Keane was a failure at Sunderland. He singlehandedly hauled the whole club up from its knees. He was a force of nature on Wearside.

He was far from perfect, of course, and ultimately bought too many poor characters who could never live up to his high expectations in terms of professionalism, and it prompted a total collapse in his patience. But he’s still hugely well-loved in Sunderland.

4. Steve Bruce

Bruce did okay at Sunderland. He definitely didn’t do as brilliantly as he claims he did, but he delivered one of the club’s better Premier League teams.

He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that ‘his roots’ as a boyhood Newcastle fan were what made Sunderland fans turn on him, but the only person who made that an issue was him – and only when he needed a self-serving excuse when his team started to badly fail.

5. Gus Poyet

It’s difficult what to make of Gus Poyet at Sunderland. Some of the things he did were amazing, such as arguably the greatest escape in Premier League history and a League Cup final (both especially impressive given his team beat Chelsea and Manchester United in both of those achievements).

On the other hand, he was constantly moaning and his transfers were pretty abysmal. And he inexplicably played a weakened side in an FA Cup quarter-final, which still rankles even to this day.

6. Martin O’Neill

O’Neill wasn’t the force he had previously been when he arrived at Sunderland. It was his first job without long-time assistant John Robertson and, in a Bryan Clough/Peter Taylor kind of way, he has struggled going solo.

He still provided some great times though, especially right at the start of his tenure in charge. Perhaps the right man for Sunderland but at the wrong time.

7. Dick Advocaat

Grizzled veteran Advocaat was not at Sunderland for long, but he certainly touched the hearts of supporters.

He was clear from the start: he was only staying for a handful of games at the end of the season to try to keep Sunderland up. He managed it and cried with joy on the pitch at Arsenal following the result that delivered it.

Sunderland fans wanted to keep him so much they set up a Just Giving page to raise money to send flowers to Advocaat’s wife to try to persuade her to release him from his promised retirement to continue.

It worked, but with hindsight he probably shouldn’t have come back.

8. Mick McCarthy

McCarthy was in charge of Sunderland for two record-breaking relegations. The first wasn’t his fault, though, and the second he just wasn’t well-funded enough to be given a realistic chance.

Between them was a Championship title and an FA Cup semi-final, so he delivered his share of good memories too.

9. Paolo Di Canio

Di Canio was crazy. There remains zero doubt about that. He banned ketchup and blamed everyone else for anything that ever happened.

However, he was also a tornado ripping through the club when it needed it, and his initial impact was intoxicating – including an away win at Newcastle which prompted a famous knee-sliding celebration in his immaculate Italian suit. The club still have the trousers, dirty knees and all.

10. Ricky Sbragia

Sbragia was an unremarkable, essentially caretaker, coach who kept the club up, just, after being reluctantly pushed into the roll following Keane’s resignation.

What you need to take from this selection is just how bad David Moyes was to not make the list.

By Michael Graham


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