Possibly the most popular manager of recent years was Roy Keane. Snarling, uncompromising, intelligent, intense, fierce, scary. There’s a lot of words you could spring to mind when you think of Keane but one stands above all: winner.
He first came to England playing under the legendary Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest between 1990 and 1993. After Forest’s relegation he moved to Man United were he developed into the most competitive midfielder of his generation.
It could be argued Keane was the best leader in Premier League history. An excellent player but far from the most naturally talented player in the squad, his influence on others and drive as a person was a key component of United’s repeated success. By the time he left the club in 2005 he’d won seven league titles, a Champions League, four FA cups and countless other individual awards.
He finished his career at Celtic in 2006 and was mooted as a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Man United. It was at the Stadium of Light he chose to make his managerial debut.
Sunderland were at a low-ebb. Relegation to the Championship with a record low points tally, a wantaway owner and a disenchanted fanbase meant the place needed a lift. Niall Quinn headed the Drumavile consortium with Keane as a manager and the challenge begun. Making six signings on deadline day, including Dwight Yorke and David Connolly, Sunderland started well, beating West Brom and Leeds early on and scoring a late winner at Derby County. Keane was expected to be ruthless and didn’t disappoint. Discarding Liam Lawrence, Chris Brown and Ben Alnwick when they were caught in an x-rated video online.
Progress was slow and results were mixed initially. By January 2007 - Sunderland were in mid-table. More signings followed, Keane went back to Old Trafford and brought in Danny Simpson and Jonny Evans on loan. Carlos Edwards also arrived and the club started to motor.
One win away at Sheffield Wednesday resulted in Beatles anthem ‘Hey Jude’ being turned into ‘Keano’ as the Mackems toasted their new hero. Wins against high flying Derby County, Wolves and West Brom meant that Sunderland were in the automatic promotion frame. An entertaining 3-2 win over Burnley, coupled with other results going Sunderland’s way, sealed the Black Cats immediate return to the top-flight. The title was clinched a week later at Luton in a 5-0 thrashing. Keane showed his intent by refusing an open-top tour - indicating his high-standards for himself and the club.
Keane not only brought the pride back but brought stability back and a platform on which to build. Sunderland achieved consecutive seasons in the top flight with a 15th placed finish. Yes it could be argued Keane over-spent money but the survival was hugely important in building for the future.
A key feature of Keane’s era was late goals. His drive and determination to keep going until the final whistle was a continuation of the drive and focus he showed at Old Trafford as a player. Wins over West Ham, Middlesbrough and Spurs all coming late on and were crucial in the survival bid. He also signed important players such as Kenwyne Jones and Craig Gordon who were key over the course of the season.
In the 2008/09 Keane and Quinn’s vision to take Sunderland to the next level appeared to be taking shape. The quality of player Sunderland were linked with improved noticeably. Steed Malbranque, Djibril Cisse and El Hadji Diouf were huge arrivals but the season didn’t go as planned.
His outspoken attitude continued with an argument with Jack Warner over FIFA, and he said a League Cup performance against Northampton Town was one of his ‘worst nights in football.’ Rumours of rifts with new owner Ellis Short and fall-outs with players in the squad meant cracks started to appear at the Stadium Of Light.
Despite leading the club to a memorable 2-1 victory over Newcastle United- the first home derby win in 28 years - Keane resigned in November 2008 after exactly 100 games in charge.
He later managed Ipswich Town and now appears on Sky Sports, but always speaks highly of his time on Wearside. Keane’s popularity is mirrored by the fans who have listed him as their number one choice to become manager numerous times when the job has been available. A truly iconic recent manager and only time will tell if he has unfinished business with Sunderland.
After a short spell with Ricky Sbragia in charge - Steve Bruce replaced Keane in the summer of 2009. Bruce had, of course, played over 400 times at Man United in a nine year spell from 1988 to 1997.
A solid dependable defender, Bruce was hugely important in providing the base for United to have success in the 1990s golden era of the club. He won the Premier League title on four occasions and also the FA Cup the same amount of times. Bruce then went into management and had varying success with clubs such as Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic before taking the Sunderland job.
The previous season had resulted in Sunderland narrowly avoiding relegation but Bruce set to build a squad and made Darren Bent his major signing. The striker signed from Spurs for £10m and hit the ground running, scoring 25 goals in his first season at the club.
Bruce turned Sunderland into a force, with wins over Liverpool (with the help of an inflatable friend) Arsenal, and very nearly a win at Old Trafford. The Mackems were top six but an unfortunate winless run lasting 14 games took the club from the cusp of Europe to flirting with relegation eventually finishing 13th.
His second season in charge and again, money was spent and quality players were brough to the squad. 2010 World Cup star Asamoah Gyan arrived for a club record fee of £13m but expectations had started to rise slightly. Despite a bright start - a body-blow for Bruce was the 5-1 hammering he got in the derby against Newcastle. Despite this Sunderland were now looking like an established Premier League club and sat 6th at the turn of the year.
The positives of that spell was a stunning 3-0 win away at champions Chelsea and the emergence of local boy Jordan Henderson as a top talent. Another winless run however meant that Sunderland slipped again eventually finishing 10th in the league. Star striker Bent was controversially sold and the feel-good factor had started to fade slightly.
The third season was a killer for Keane, and Bruce was no different. 2011/12 started with another derby loss 1-0 at home to the Magpies and while Bruce was never as popular as the Irishman, his repeated beliefs that the fans were against him for hie Geordie roots were quite a way off the mark.
Fans grew tired of the constant snipes at them and, with only two home wins since January, questionable transfer activity and poor tactics. He seemed on borrowed time. The final nail in the coffin was an ironic last -minute 2-1 home loss to Wigan when the fans finally snapped, chanting for Bruce’s head. He was sacked in November 2011 leaving the club in the relegation zone.
Bruce went on to manage Hull, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and is now of course managing Newcastle. In contrast to Keane, his relationship with Sunderland fans is strained.
The final link from the SOL era is David Moyes. The Scot was chosen as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford after a very successful spell managing Everton. He took charge in the summer of 2013 with much fanfare but never really had success at Man United. He was there nine months of his six-year contract before being sacked with the club way off the pace in the Premier League.
Moyes managed in Spain where his record was again mixed, before coming to Sunderland in 2016. Widely admired by chairman Ellis Short he sought after him for years before finally agreeing to the job. The Black Cats had narrowly avoided relegation thanks to a superb rescue mission by Sam Allardyce and the idea was that Moyes would provide the same long-term stability he had created at Everton.
He didn’t get off the best started by declaring a relegation-battle after only two games and his signings failed to develop at the club. £13m rated Didier N’Dong and £8m Papy Djilobodji were notable failures in the market.
The results were poor as well - Sunderland took 11 attempts to record their first win and by Christmas were sat rock bottom of the Premier League. Moyes seemed to go back to old friends in the transfer market as ex-Everton players such as Victor Anichebe, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar and Joleon Lescott arrived on free transfers with little thought or idea as to how they would fit in at the club. None were hugely successful.
Despite Jermain Defoe’s almost heroic total of 15 goals in such a poor side and academy-graduate Jordan Pickford developing into a top goalkeeper, Sunderland continued to lose regularly and looked nailed on for relegation. Moyes further angered fans by refusal to change tactics mid-game and his lack of passion in interviews which was extremely poorly received.
Sunderland were relegated following a late 1-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth and finished the season bottom with just six wins and 24 points. Moyes created rage on Wearside by resigning the day after and has gone on to absolve himself from any of the blame following the relegation claiming the writing was already on the wall and he did all he could.
Despite such a poor spell at the club, he has gone onto be appointed at West Ham twice and is still held in huge respect in the football world......not at Sunderland though.