But when manager Steve Bruce steps out to prove he still has it, he no longer takes his place in the back four to bully and cajole the young strikers who will be leading the line in his first XI 24 hours later.
These days, Bruce claims he is a striker, and he will even claim he is none other than Manchester United legend Denis Law as he looks to recreate his dreams of yesteryear.
Forward thinking: Bruce
Fraizer Campbell, himself a former United striker who arrived at the Stadium of Light in the summer, revealed Bruce no longer terrorises the frontmen who wear the red and white of Sunderland, but he is still keen to make his mark in the weekly practice games.
Campbell said: 'When he comes out on the pitch he plays up front he calls himself Denis Law and he'll say 'Denis Law is out today'. He doesn't move much, but hesays he's a target man.'
So what's the manager like? 'Horrific,' Campbell said. 'Absolutely horrific.'
Bruce has built up a close relationship with his players since taking the Wearside seat in May. And Campbell, who is today hoping to be fit for a return to Tottenham where he spent a largely frustrating year on loan, has appreciated that bond with his manager from the first day he met him.
Close relationship: Campbell
Campbell, who was Bruce's first signing, said: 'He is just Mr Nice Guy. He comes in and he talks to everyone, has a laugh with everyone and he is really interested in what you're doing.
'It's nice to feel he knows you, it might be one thing but it's nice he feels that way about his players.
'I met him before I went to Tottenham about a loan deal to go to Wigan so we chatted for a bit and kept in touch and this time when the Sunderland thing came about I was 100 per cent sure I was going to come and play for him. He has the Manchester United history, he is someone players want to play for.
'If you know the manager has faith in you it makes it a lot easier to go play for him. A lot of players need looking after to get the best out of them and the manager here can do that.'
Spurs boss backs Sunderland rival Steve Bruce to replace Fabio CapelloSUNDERLAND FC