Sunderland have appointed the FA’s technical director, Howard Wlkisnon, as their new manager.

Wilkinson, a surprise choice, was unveiled at a press conference at the Stadium of Light. The former Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday boss has agreed a deal with the club that will keep him at Sunderland until 2005. The FA agreed to release Wilkinson from his contract which was due to expire in 2004.

“I relish the challenge ahead here at Sunderland,’ said Wilkinson. ‘It is clear tome that this is a club with a proud tradition, huge and faithful support and in the Stadium of Light and academy, facilities that will be second to none.

“I feel that I have benefited massively from my time as Technical Director at the FA. It was a great opportunity to take a step back from the narrow focus thatclub management can have and look at the new and modern developments that were occurring in the game. I am very grateful to Adam Crozier and the FA for understanding that the position at Sunderland is challenging and exciting at this stage in my career.

“I am really looking forward to working closely with Steve to develop what is on paper already a strong squad at Sunderland. Steve has established a tremendous reputation within the game in a relatively short space of time. With my experience and Steve’s undoubted ability, I see bright and exciting times ahead for Sunderland Football Club and its supporters.”

Wilkinson, who has been Technical Director for the Football Association since 1997, was the last English-born manager to win the Premier League, when he led Leeds to success in 1992.

Wilkinson will be assisted by Steve Cotterill, widely regarded in the game as being one of the brightest young managers, who resigned his position at Stoke City yesterday.

Sunderland chairman Bob Murray said: ” I have the utmost respect for Howard Wilkinson and his achievements as a club manager as well as more recently at the Football Association, where his vast experience and technical ability and knowledge of the game is highly regarded. I should also like to thank the FA for releasing Howard from the remainder of his contract, which was not due to expire until June 2004.

“As a manager Howard was never relegated and more significantly won the Premier League (Division One, as was in 1992) and managed to secure European football. He remains highly respected in the world of football, and I know we couldn’t have attracted a manager of his calibre just 5-years ago at Roker Park.

“The Wilkinson and Cotterill team was a key determinant of our decision to make this appointment. We believe this partnership will reap rewards as it brings a complimentary blendof experience and achievement, with technical expertise and new ideas. Whilst they may be from different eras, both Howard and Steve have impressive CV’s, outstanding technical skills as well as the highest coaching qualifications in the game.