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Jack Greenwell: The greatest manager that Sunderland never had?

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Jack Greenwell, a man from the town of Crook, changed the game of football forever with his stint as manager of Barcelona - is the local boy the greatest manager Sunderland never had?

Who was Barca’s longest serving manager? Like me you probably thought the great Johan Cruyff. Well - think again, and look a little closer to home.

Jack Greenwell from Crook is that man, and what a remarkable story his is.

Born in 1884 the son of a Crook miner and a miner himself upon leaving school, he signed for his local team Crook Town at 17 years old.

Jack Greenwell was a half-back who played 11 years for Crook before moving to Spain. He had though whetted his appetite for travel in 1909 when he accepted an invitation to travel to Turin as part of the West Auckland team that battled through to victory in the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy (a competition many considered to be the first world cup).

Greenwell moved to Spain in 1912 signing for Barcelona for whom he made 88 appearances from 1912 to 1916. In 1913 Greenwell arranged for his former team to come over to Spain and play three games against Barcelona. Crook won the first game 4-2, the following two games were drawn 1-1 and 2-2. Even at this time it was noticed that Greenwell had a leading role in training and organising the Barca team.

He won two Catalan Championships as a player with Barca.

Greenwell played his last game for Barca in 1916 and was appointed as manager, holding that position from 1917 to 1923. He managed the club for a total of 492 games and is credited with introducing many innovations, none greater than the passing game that would become the precursor to Tiki-Taka.

His honours at Barcelona as manager included two Copa del Rey and five Catalan Championships.

In 1923 Greenwell moved on to manage UE Saints for two seasons before moving on again to coach Castellon in 1925, where he is credited with turning them in to a team to be feared and respected.

In 1927 Greenwell returned to Barcelona to take charge of RCD Espanol and led the team into the inaugural La Liga in 1928, where he presided over a Copa del Rey and a Catalan championship success.

Greenwell is reputed to have been a very good tennis player and to have taken part in Spain’s national tennis championship in 1927, as well as having a reputation as a trainer of boxers in Barcelona.

He returned to Barca for two further seasons from 1931 to 1933 and guided the club to a fifth Catalan Championship, before leaving again to manage Valencia whom he guided to runners up in the Copa de Espana where they were beaten by Real Madrid in 1934.

Greenwell’s last job on Spanish soil followed his two years at Valencia - as boss of Sporting Gijon he guided them to becoming second division champions. However, the political situation is Spain was becoming increasingly unstable and with the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 he managed to escape the grasp of General Franco and returned briefly to England.

Greenwell’s credentials and experience were not readily recognised in England, and he was soon on the move again. After a brief spell in Turkey he went in 1939 to Peru where he managed Universitario de Deportes and the Peruvian national team. Success was to follow, with his club winning the national championship and Peru winning the South American championship.

In 1940 Greenwell moved to Colombia where he took charge of the Colombian national team, however with WWII escalating, international competition was initially put on hold and then postponed. In 1942 Jack Greenwell took his last job as boss of Independiente Santa Fe whom he guided to the final of the countries national cup competition.

Jack Greenwell died on 7th of October 1942 aged 58. He had been troubled with a heart complaint since 1931 and died in his apartment in Bogota before medical help could arrive, having been driven home feeling unwell from training earlier in the day.

His death in England barely registered outside of his family and hometown. In Spain the reaction was reported to be akin to national mourning for a man who had given so much to develop their game.

A remarkable story and fascinating life of a local footballing lad who amongst many notable successes, was probably the longest serving manager Barca has ever had and the first English coach to manage a national team to be South American Champions. If only Sunderland had looked in his direction!

“Mister” written by Rory Smith in 2016 and subtitled “The men who taught the world how to beat England at their own game” is well worth a read, if Jack Greenwell’s story has captured your imagination.