Ricky Sbragia

An ever dependable centre back and successful youth team coach
A journeyman Scottish born defender, Ricky Sbragia was an apprentice with top flight Birmingham City. Despite a handful of appearances, he couldn’t establish himself in their side and moved to Walsall in 1978 for £15,000. In his first full season, they were Division 4 runners up and he earned a £35,000 summer move to Blackpool. He was unable to establish himself in their Division 3 side and was released in 1982.

Denis Smith made him one of his first City signings. Released, he wrote to several clubs asking for a contract. Few replied. Rochdale were prepared to offer him a 2 year deal. He drove from his Blackpool home to Rochdale, turned straight around and went home without getting to the Spotland ground. City’s initial offer was only short term, but he eventually agreed a one year deal, albeit on less money than Rochdale were prepared to offer. Speaking on York Hospital Ball Denis Smith noted that Sbragia doesn’t get credit he deserves. He said he’s got a footballing brain and can read the game. Used to being an “old school “centre back at his previous club, Smith got him to stay up on his feet and pass (opposite to what his previous manager wanted him to do, but Sbragia’s preferred style of play).

His faith was rewarded, an ever present in his first season and the missing just one game in City’s 1983/4 Division 4 championship season. He was a rock at the heart of City’s defence, the quiet, cultured and unflustered man alongside the more flamboyant man, first Denis Smith and then John MacPhail.

In the 1984/5 season, again he was a regular on the team sheet, until he succumbed to a back injury received in the Liverpool FA Cup replay, an injury that was to trouble him for the rest of his playing career.

Recovering, his injury, he was to play on for another 2 seasons before announcing his retirement in the summer of 1987.

One high spot of his career was his goal against Liverpool in the 1985 FA Cup tie, but he’d probably say he was at his best when defending.

In total, he made 179 appearances for City, scoring 10 goals, the club where he enjoyed most playing success.

On retirement, he joined City’s youth coaching staff. Largely known as “Youth Team Manager”, he also briefly held the title of” Reserve Team Manager” and gained his coaching badges. He guided City’s youth team to the quarter finals of the 1992/3 FA Youth Cup. In his time at City, his young charges included Richard Cresswell, Jon Greening, Graeme Murty, Nick Culkin and Darren Williams who all left City for decent fees.

In early October 1994, he accepted an offer to take up a Youth Coaching role at Sunderland. Douglas Craig told Sbragia that he turned down interest from Sunderland stating Ricky was happy with City, however Ricky asked to speak to Sunderland. Speaking on Roker Rapport Podcast Special in November 2021, he said he'd been working on a week to week basis with City since he retired from playing in 1987, however some other reports suggested he'd recently signed a 3 year contract with City, in all probability, it was offered by Douglas Craig when the Sunderland interest came along. Whatever, Sbragia indicated that Craig was largely unaware of the youth set up.

He spent 8 years at Sunderland working with the youth team and later the reserve team.

In 2002, for once in his life, he put out feelers and applied for the vacancy as Manchester United’s reserve team coach. Sir Alex Ferguson recalled how he’d been impressed with the passing style of Sbragia’s City’ youth side at Old Trafford in 1993 FA Youth Cup tie. Moving onto Manchester United, he had 3 years as Reserve Team Manager before a spell as Bolton’s first team coach. Staying in the top flight, he re-joined Sunderland’s coaching staff in November 2007 and was, rather reluctantly, appointed caretaker manager a year later following the departure of Roy Keane. A couple of 4 goal wins and the job was his on a permanent basis, guiding Sunderland to Premier League survival on the final day of the season before resigning as manager, although, he remained at Sunderland as Chief Scout April 2011.

5 years coaching Scottish age sides followed, initially as Under 17 coach, progressing with the side up to Under 21 level.

His next and most recent position saw him return to Manchester United in July 2017 as Under 23 manager under Mourinho and then Solskjaer before being sacked in May 2019.

When coaching City’s youth side, he had a real affinity with his young charges who looked up to and respected him. On the pitch the 1993 FA Youth Cup quarter final and being runners up in the 1994 Northern Intermediate League were the high spots, both in his time with City and the history of youth football at York City.

In the 1990s,when selling new frontiers, Ricky was one of the few City personnel who regularly bought a copy, thrusting a one pound coin into my hand and telling me to keep the change for the next issue. Next issue, invariably it was another one pound coin and the same instruction.

Ricky speaks to the Roker Rapport Podcast Special in November 2021.

Footnote: In 2014, he was a very late candidate when Russ Wilcox's appointment as City's manager was about to be confirmed