Shamed football coach George Ormond was a "predatory paedophile" who shattered lives, a senior detective said.
He was brought to justice because the scandal of sexual abuse in football hit the headlines two years ago and because of the bravery of victims, Detective Superintendent Mick Paterson said.
He also admitted Northumbria Police may have missed an opportunity to catch Ormond earlier in the 1990s, but insisted procedures are better now.
Det Supt Paterson said: "George Ormond was a prominent football coach between 1975 and 1999, and he used that position to act as a predatory paedophile to abuse young men.
"He used that position to gain contact with young men who had dreams and aspirations of going on to have football careers, and the insidious nature of that offending shattered the lives of almost 20 victims."
The detective said Ormond knew he had the power to shape promising footballers' development, and he could block their progress if they spoke out against him.
Football's abuse scandal was cracked open in 2016 when ex-pro Andy Woodward came forward to say he was abused at Crewe Alexandra by coach Barry Bennell.
Det Supt Paterson said: "The landscape is very different now. 2016 really was a watershed in terms of the confidence of victims coming forward and the way police are now structured to listen to historical sexual abuse (allegations).
"We now have hand-picked, specialist, trained officers who support victims coming forward so we can run investigations such as this.
"We have moved on significantly in terms of our ability to put predatory paedophiles like George Ormond in front of the court."
Ormond's trial heard how in 1997 a Newcastle United physio was told by an ex-player that Ormond had abused him, and jurors were told that the physio passed the information on to a senior officer connected to match days at St James's Park.
However, the court also heard that at the time the player did not want to tell police what happened.
But a police investigation was launched some years later, and Ormond was jailed for six years in 2002 for sexual abuse.
Det Supt Paterson said: "We are aware that there was possibly a missed opportunity.
"What we know is had that happened now, we are far more fleet of foot, we are far more skilled and we are far more robust in dealing with information and putting the jigsaw together.
"So it would be right to say, I cannot really comment about a missed opportunity.
"It's difficult to say without knowing the full facts but the message is very simple. If you are a victim of historical sexual abuse, come forward.
"We have specially trained, hand-picked detectives who will listen to you, who will conduct an investigation, and bring your abuser to court."
Mr Paterson said Ormond appeared to be convinced he was innocent.
"He is in complete denial, I think George Ormond believes that what he did was acceptable and part of what happened in football."
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “This is the latest case of a football professional sickeningly exploiting his position of trust to sexually abuse young boys who dreamed of a career in the sport.
“Many of his victims suffered in silence for years out of fear they would not be believed, but their immense courage in speaking out has now helped bring their abuser to justice.
“A number of Ormond’s victims contacted the NSPCC’s football abuse helpline on 0800 023 2642 – and we would urge any survivors of child sexual abuse in football to do the same.”