RR: You ended your career here at Sunderland and had four fantastic years. What is your fondest memory of the club from your time here?
SS: It was a fantastic club. The team we had was fantastic. But not only that, we had a team that could play good football. I think that was what gave us two 7th place finishes.
Add into that we also had two amazing men capable of great man management in Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton. Their man management skills were unbelievable.
We knew when it was serious; we knew when it was time to have a laugh. It’s a hard quality to get; it’s hard to get that balance. But they managed it. They had a great mixture.
Stand out moment? All of it. Sunderland, the period of time, the area, the fans. All of it. Of course Chelsea at home stands out, when we smashed them. The supporters behind us, we were so difficult to play against. Not many teams wanted to come there. We played with such intensity. We knew if we showed commitment the fans would back us. The fans wanted 100% commitment, and we gave them that. The fans wanted the team to take a lead on the pitch, and that’s what we tried to do. We had so much leadership on the pitch. Kevin Ball, Quinn, Phillips, Micky Gray, Chris Makin. Add in Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton – they made us run!
RR: When you joined you famously had a 'moon' clause in your contract. Can you explain exactly how that came about and what was Peter Reid's reaction to it?
SS: The negotiation between me and the club took some weeks. We had some agents working for Sunderland, my solicitor, my agent. It took a couple of weeks then eventually we went to the office in Sunderland and chatted.
Two of the agents working for Sunderland had commercial space shuttle flights, we were watching Moonraker at the time and the agent said “look Stefan, if you sign today, you get one of our space shuttle tickets”. The Sunderland board heard about this and to be honest, they were not too pleased and put the clause into the contract.
RR: Why did you join Sunderland and what did you love most about the area?
SS: I didn’t know too much about the North East. As a foreigner you tend to know more about London, maybe Manchester yes, but Sunderland is such a beautiful place.
The scenery in Sunderland is beautiful. The people there too are so warm. They have time for you - if you saw a fan it was 20-30 minute conversations, not small talk. So there’s no stress in that way.
You have to understand the area. When I was negotiating, I’ll be honest, there were other clubs who wanted me, but I was interested in the Sunderland project. Agents want to get the best deals for the players, but I told them that I wanted to sign for Sunderland. I liked their conduct; I had a lot of respect for Bob Murray who was a great person; the whole board made a great impression.
The atmosphere in the games was unbelievable and very motivating for me and for the team. Driving to the game, seeing all the fans in red and white. They were like ants!
I’m very, very pleased I did join because I don’t regret one minute of it. I love Sunderland. I’m very pleased and proud to be part of that club and its history.
RR: After those initial two very good seasons our run came to a halt and we slipped out of the Premiership with a then record low points total. Why do you think that things turned sour?
SS: I think the quality was there when we went down with 19 points. At the same time, however, I think when you are winning and playing well as a team, you play over your ability.
You know, it’s easy to play when things are going well. Sometimes when the situation changes for whatever reason, you need leaders and perhaps the players just weren’t used to that situation (of battling relegation). It’s a different ball game, a different mentality.
We lost Steve Bould, Niall Quinn retired, Alex Rae left, Kevin Ball too. Sometimes when you are playing poorly, you have to play and battle ugly.
Maybe some of those players were not used to that relegation battle, maybe a lack of character, or leadership. It was awful to see what happened, the consequences of being relegated. Many employees, who worked for the club for many years, lost their jobs - it was a horrible thing to see.
RR: Reidy was obviously a massive character. What is your funniest Peter Reid story from your time at the club?
SS: We were losing one game, I don’t remember who now but we came into the dressing room and Peter and Bobby were very unhappy. They used a lot of passion in the half time talk, telling us how unhappy they were with the effort. He was going on and going on and going on. They were both furious, him and Saxton. We were all sat down just listening to him, looking at each other as he shouted and tore into us.
Then the bell rang. We hadn’t any tactical instruction from him he’d been going at it that long. We were expecting him to give us a little bit as we were going out. Some instruction, something he thought could help change the game. But he stopped ranting at us, opened the door and just went “fucking Hell, for God’s sake lads, just…just win the bloody game!” Of course, we did, we went out and won it second half.
That was Reidy - effort, commitment and never expecting anything less than 100% from each one of his players.
RR: What was Howard Wilkinson like?
SS: He was detailed. He was into all the little pieces. Statistics were more his thing. He came into a situation in October, November perhaps and we were conceding loads from set-pieces, he wanted us to improve on this and it was all about the small, intricate details. He was meticulous. He was a perfectionist I would say. He was very professional, but let’s be honest, it was just not a good season for us.
RR: What did you make of his training methods?
SS: Sometimes as a foreigner, it’s different here anyway. I’ve played in a lot of different countries, so I was used to different ways of communicating, different cultures. That sort of thing. You listen; you take it in and try to make sure that you implement the plan, get the results and improve. He was all about the small details but I would always take it in with Howard, he was different maybe to the British players, but I am used to different ways of thinking and different methods.
RR: Where would you rank your time at Sunderland compared to the rest of the clubs you played for in your career?
SS: Very high. Yeah, very high up. It really was one of the top ones. The area was maybe not the nicest for the weather, but the warmth of the fans - girls, boys, ladies, gentleman - the Stadium, the team we had at the time. It was all very pleasing, satisfying and of course with all of that, enjoyable.
The Stadium of Light shares its name with another club I am close to, Benfica.
Sunderland was special to me. I still follow them and one day I’d love to come back. I’m ready to come back. Infact, I had a proposal when I left the club to stay and coach the reserve team. I wanted to do this very much as I wanted to remain with Sunderland. At the time, my son was diagnosed with autism and it was a difficult time for me and my family. He wasn’t very sociable then, my son, so it was tough for me then personally. It was hard to say no to Sunderland at that time.
He’s improved now though, he speaks Portuguese and English, and is very sociable so we have had success with my son there. He’s very independent now.
I want to come back and work with Sunderland one day. The door is now open to come back to Sunderland. I have my pro license now, I’m still very much involved with football still. I have been with the Swedish Under 21s, and also at Helsingborgs alongside Age Hareide who used to be at Manchester City.
So yeah, like I say the door is open and I’m very much involved in football, so I’d love to come back.
I’m going to be back in December or January to catch some games and to catch up with some old friends!
RR: Which of the players currently at Sunderland do you rate?
SS: Jermain Defoe. It’s always important to have someone who can score goals. He’s a great player. He’s still fast, and a quality finisher.
Missing Jan Kirchhoff and Lee Cattermole is having an effect, as the midfield is very important. But for a club like Sunderland, everyone is important. Everyone has to come together as one, the fans buy into that. As an individual you need to play to capacity and play as one. I think that’s what’s important for a club like Sunderland.
RR: Finally, what are you up to now?
SS: I work for Benfica TV. I do the commentary, pre and post game coverage and the analysis. I enjoy it.
During the winter break I am running two tournaments. One is in the Algarve at the end of January and another in Dubai at the beginning of February. It’s all televised and has teams like Dynamo Moscow, Zenit and Brondby. All of the teams taking part are on winter breaks so will be taking part to keep their fitness levels up.
I’m still very much involved in football!