Peter Reid says he blames himself for failing to take Sunderland on to become a force in English football - but reveals he wishes chairman Bob Murray had shared his vision.
Reid led the Black Cats to two successive seventh-placed finishes in the Premier League after gaining promotion in 1997.
But he says he wasn’t strong enough to challenge Murray over the club’s ambition as he looked to take Sunderland into Europe for the first time in their history – and ultimately paid the price after squandering the limited transfer funds on some poor signings.
In the second part of the serialisation of his autobiography ‘Cheer Up Peter Reid’, the former Sunderland manager reveals how fan expectations in a game against Everton brought things to a head, and how he almost signed superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Reid said: “Considering the state of the club when I took over, we were flying and the season after winning promotion we finished seventh.
“We actually missed out on qualifying for Europe on goal difference which was a disappointment, but it didn’t check our momentum because the following season we came seventh again.
“It remains a massive disappointment that the progress we made during that period was not sustained. I blame myself for that. It’s easy to look at others, to point out what they could have done differently and, in some cases, that is justified. But as a manager of a club that has risen above expectations and created an opportunity to go to the next level, you have to do everything to ensure that happens.
“I’m not sure I did that because I allowed myself to buy into the chairman’s vision of success when I knew we needed to be more ambitious.
“The crowd were pushing us, sometimes a bit too much if I’m honest, but that is what happens with fans all over the world. Like them, I wanted more.
“But there was one game, at home to Everton in March 2000, which pushed me over the edge.
“We were drawing 1-1 and the fans were letting me know that they were not happy because we were not winning. I was stood on the line, thinking, ‘It’s Everton Football Club we’re playing and we’re in the Premier League, where every result has to be earned’, but the expectations of the supporters by then were such that we had to win.
“As soon as the game ended I went in to see Bob because I could see a problem was starting to develop. He could tell I needed to get something off my chest and before I’d even said anything he started: “Go on, say whatever you’ve got to say.” So I told him. I told him that the expectations of the fans were higher than ever. I told him that we needed to kick on. And I told him that we had to bring in some top international footballers.
“Bob wasn’t on the same page, though. ‘If we finish fourth-from-bottom every season, I’m happy,’ he said, and he repeated that message in a meeting with scouts at a later date. To be fair to the chairman, he was looking at it from the perspective of someone who had been part of a yo-yo club and that had made him crave stability more than anything else.
“On that occasion, I wasn’t as demanding as I should have been. I had a duty to myself to get more than he was willing to offer but I fell into line, and that was a mistake.
“I just wished the club had backed me more when the time came for us to look to be more than just a team which was a comfortable mid-table side, on the fringes of European qualification.
“I made some mistakes with the funds that were made available. Bringing in Lilian Laslandes for £3.6m rebounded on me when he failed to score in 12 league appearances.
“Signing him was a mistake but when I’d seen him play for Bordeaux against the likes of Lille, Man United and Celtic, he had done really well, and looked a safe bet. He might have had marital problems by the time he joined us and he was a disaster. I knew him as a footballer, but I didn’t know much about him as a character.
“The foreign market was opening up and it was easy to get your fingers burned. That happened to me with Nicolas Medina, Tyson Nunez and Carsten Fredgaard in particular.
“I also missed out on Zlatan Ibrahimovic a couple of times. He was at Malmo when my former Everton team-mate, Andy King, spotted him at La Manga but he ended up going to Ajax. Later on I went over to Holland and spoke to Leo Beenhakker about him but we couldn’t get it over the line.
“The sad thing is that, before all of these problems began to set in, we had looked so strong as a club. But when we needed to push on we didn’t. As we discovered to our cost, if you stand still in the Premier League it won’t take long for other clubs to overtake you.
“That was what happened in 2001/02 when we ended up finishing fourth from bottom, which was a huge disappointment for everyone.
“The following summer I tried to get Robbie Keane in but that didn’t work out and we ended up signing Tore-Andre Flo, Matthew Piper, Stephen Wright and Marcus Stewart as I tried to shake things up but, after nine games, we only had eight points. After we lost 3-1 away to Arsenal in our next league game it soon became clear that my time at Sunderland was up.
“It was amicable and my contract was honoured so I had no complaints about the way that it was handled. I just wished it wasn’t ending because I had loved being manager of Sunderland.”
Cheer Up Peter Reid, Trinity Mirror Sport Media, RRP £18.99. On sale from Amazon, book shops and sportmediashop.com. Ebook also available.