RR: Grant McCann - is he any good?
Luke Flanagan: A very interesting question! He’s definitely a much better manager now. He wasn’t popular after we were relegated at the end of the 2019/20 season - in fact many were furious he wasn’t sacked after the 8-0 debacle to Wigan Athletic at the end of that season - but he certainly focused on making himself much much better. Being away from social media has helped him, and he worked with psychologists to make sure he was successful at getting us back to the Championship at the first attempt.
I’d say he was a superb League One manager and one that deserves another shot at the Championship - his side began to show that from November to January when we rose up the table.
RR: How is he viewed by Hull fans after leaving at the end of January?
Luke Flanagan: Mostly positive actually. He left after three consecutive wins and a feel good factor after our new Turkish owners came in. After the Stoke defeat, we beat Blackburn, Bournemouth and Swansea - all results that earlier in the season we would have dreaded.
He eventually used three at the back which fans were crying out for and we had a great run with a consistent team. Many felt sacking him was harsh, but there was always going to be a change under the new owner. The problem was that as soon as McCann lost again, the knives came out too easily. I think he was starting to win many City fans over though and some even said that it was the wrong decision to part ways.
RR: McCann held down his job for over two and a half years, which is probably above average when it comes to length of stay for managers - why do you think he stuck around so long?
Luke Flanagan: In short, because the previous owners didn’t want to stump up the cash to sack him! Sounds flippant, but some of the form and the results we had in the Championship were incredibly poor for a long time. However, McCann always simply got on with the job (even when he had his two best players taken away from him in Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki. He obviously had a good working relationship with the previous owners as he had a willingness to work on a shoestring budget and lots of local youth players.
I also think he thought he was capable of taking the team forward. He surrounded himself with those he could trust and he got us promoted last year - and as Champions. That was a massive redemption moment for him.
RR: What would you say his strengths are as a coach?
Luke Flanagan: Willingness to play young lads from the academy. He gave so many young players their debuts or extended runs in the team when they may not have got that elsewhere. Lewis Potter and Greaves - two local lads - flourished under him last year, and he was often at U23 games giving advice to players and taking a small number of them to train with the first team on a rotational basis.
He also had the ability to back his squad and eventually find a way of playing that suited the players he had. It took a while, but he finally started to change the approach to games where it wasn’t working at the start of the year. His switch to 3-5-2 (second time around) galvanised the fans and squad, seeing them rise up the table.
RR: And weaknesses...
Luke Flanagan: Stubbornness to change! It took him so long to alter the 4-3-3 formation that he was married to for so long. It’s admirable that he believes in his own methods, but when it’s obvious that tweaks are needed and he doesn’t act on them it can be frustrating.
At the start of October, he switched to 3-5-2 and won the resulting game. After the international break that followed, he switched back to 4-3-3 and we went on a rotten run. Only when he switched it back did we see good results as we have three Centre halves who suit three at the back. It was obvious and it took too long for him to admit he was wrong about that.
He’s also prickly on occasion in press conferences. I’ve interviewed him after games and he was always fine with me on the few occasions I dealt with him - but if he doesn’t like the question he can be obstinate and difficult. Not in the John Yems or Nigel Pearson echelon of awkward, but there were some members of local media he just wouldn’t allow to be questioned by. There were faults on both sides at times regarding that but he was very stubborn at times.
RR: Sunderland are in a position where our promotion hopes are dangling by a thread, and realistically our best chance of getting out of the league is via the play-offs. Do you think he has what it takes to get us there?
Luke Flanagan: I would say yes. I think he would galvanise the players and create a mentality where he defends them as long as they give their all for the shirt. He took us to our first title in over 50 years last year, and that can’t be dismissed easily. The run in at the end of the season often had high pressure games and his belief in his squad got us through in the end. I was at the 2-2 between Sunderland and City in April and although we could have lost that game, he had his leaders on the pitch that he could trust to get us results, even if performances weren’t necessarily deserving of it.
RR: We’ve got a very young squad that’s lacking in confidence. Do you think we’ll get an instant boost from McCann coming in?
Luke Flanagan: Yes, definitely. He’s a massive believer in youth as I’ve previously mentioned and great at developing them - look at KLP, Greaves - even players like Wilks who are inconsistent but he got the best out of them at League One level.
He can tell them he knows what it takes to get promoted and can back it up - it’s not someone like Johnson who sees things as a long term “project” where the players probably see through buzzwords and the Emperor’s New Clothes David Brent style management speak. He’s a proven winner in League One and they’ll love that. Making Jermaine Defoe a massive part of what he does will be important in seeing whether fans back him or not /M- whether he makes him captain or vice captain, things like that.
RR: Overall, what would you say to any Sunderland fans who aren’t sure about his potential appointment?
Luke Flanagan: Get behind him from day one. You may not like the appointment as you may not think he’s a big enough name for a massive club like Sunderland - but he proved last year he has what it takes to take a team up from League One. He is exactly what you need and once he knows his settled team, you should start to rise back up the table and stop the rot that’s clearly set in.
I always felt sorry for him because fans were really opposed to him for the longest time at City. He did so well last year and no fans were there to see it - we had no Grant McCann chants, ever. His name wasn’t sung, and I think it would have started to have been had he stayed. May I suggest a “Grant McCann is magic, he wears a Magic hat” style chant and the positivity towards him and the lads - especially with an experienced and well loved player like Defoe - will work wonders. I really hope he does well for you because he deserves it.