Opinions are like, shall we say, belly buttons; everyone has one. Salut! Sunderland is a broad church and Daniel Garraghan* is the latest addition to our pastoral team. Here he discusses the subject on many of our lips: has Poyet taken on a team with sufficient quality to fight clear of the bottom three? Owen Lennox has already added to his portfolio of portraits of Sunderland managers and head coaches …
Does Poyet have enough quality to work with to keep Sunderland up?
The appointment of Gus Poyet as Sunderland manager marks the start of yet another new era at the club, and despite only being seven games into the season, Sunderland find themselves in a perilous situation, already being six points from safety (seven really if you look at goal differences – ed).
While there is still, of course, time for the new manager to turn things around, that window of opportunity will not stay open for long; it really does seem as though points are needed soon, otherwise another relegation looms large on the horizon.
Although, we hope, extremely well directed by Poyet, Sunderland’s fate ultimately rests on the ability of the players at the club. And despite being far from world-beaters, the players Poyet has inherited are good enough to keep the club up (with any luck there’ll be a couple of January additions too), although creating a strong team spirit, integrating new players and gaining points in the next few games are essential. Otherwise the team’s fate could well be sealed regardless of the ability of the players and indeed the manager.
Despite losing some key players over the summer, Sunderland do possess some quality players for Poyet to work with, players who possess more than enough ability to keep the team up.
Without playing to his own standards this season, John O’Shea is still both a quality defender and an experienced head at the heart of defence. Cattermole’s return to fitness has provided the midfield with much needed energy and bite; Ki looks a very technical player with a good range of passing; Giaccherini has begun to show his undoubted class; Johnson can create chances for the forwards and with Fletcher to return from injury soon, there may even be a solution to the problem of a lack of goals.
Added to this, ideally, funds will made available to bring in some quality in the January transfer window – and we must pray it’s not be too late by then.
Now, no Sunderland fan would argue we are blessed with a squad full of amazingly gifted players. We are not. However, to that contention two things can be said in response.
One: without at all meaning to sound defeatist and put Sunderland down, we are not challengers for the top four. So clearly we are not blessed with numerous players who can compete at that level.
However, this does not suddenly make the players we do have substandard and Championship level, players who cannot keep us up and do a good job for us in the Premier League.
Adam Johnson, I believe, epitomises this point. It almost seems as though he is derided by some fans for not producing top-class, game-changing performances every week. In his time at the club, he has undoubtedly been frustrating. Yet if you look at the contributions he has made, he has been a decent player for us, if outstanding. For example, on Saturday against Manchester United, he was responsible for creating two very good chances for Giaccherini. Just because he has not produced constantly phenomenal performances, and maybe not even the performances we expected every week, it does not mean he has not done well for us, that he won’t continue to be a key player for us in this league.
Two: building on the previous point, compared to many other teams, I cannot accept that, player for player, we are worse off. To name but a few examples, look at the squads of Hull, Cardiff, West Ham and Stoke – all currently higher than Sunderland in the table. It would not, I believe, be fair comment to say those teams possess players far superior to Sunderland’s.
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In fact Sunderland have players who should more than compete with these teams and avoid being relegated. In truth, there is not a lot between many teams in the league once you take the top few out of the equation. Of course, one may say in return that each of the aforementioned clubs has more of a “team”; whereas our squad is ripped apart every summer, others experience gradual progression. That is a valid point and a legitimate concern for Sunderland. It may well turn out to be a cause if we are sent down.
Thus a pivotal task for Poyet is to create a strong team spirit and get all the players understanding each other and looking like a “team”.
There have been positive signs under Kevin Ball. Despite losing both league games, the performances under his reign were, though not perfect, an improvement to what was offered previously.
There looked to be more team unity and superior understanding. Poyet needs to build on this, and quickly. Survival could depend on it.
Moreover, despite the players being of sufficient quality to keep Sunderland in the league, results are needed quickly.
If Poyet makes an immediate impact and points are quickly gained, everything starts to look a lot brighter – albeit with some tough fixtures still ahead.
However, if the team continue to struggle in these next few games then things begin to look very difficult, regardless of the ability of the manger and players. This is because the team will be cut adrift, and despite the arrival of a new manager the confidence of the players – you suspect – would be badly damaged.
And confidence is so important in football; every football fan knows that it turns average players and teams into good ones, and a lack of confidence can turn good players and teams into average ones. Just look at West Brom: they had a poor start to the season and couldn’t buy a goal, but one win against Sunderland (if nothing else, we’re good at kick starting other teams’ seasons), and they’re now flying, beating Manchester United and gaining a deserved point against Arsenal.
So, if Sunderland fail to gain points soon, the gap and lack of confidence may mean survival is too big a mountain to climb. Of course, one may point out that there will still be numerous winnable home games after Christmas. However, to counter that, those games are suddenly not as winnable if you’re rooted to the bottom of the table whilst cut adrift of everyone else and desperately need to win them. High pressure games are never easy to win.
* Daniel on himself:
I’m 21 year, from Gateshead and I have recently graduated from Sheffield Uni, where I studied philosophy. I’m a huge Sunderland fan, a season ticket since the 1999/2000 season and have been lucky enough to be able to travel to numerous away games over the years. Sunderland aside, I’m a big sports fan in general: cricket, tennis and athletics, in particular, but also other sports.
** See also: Gus Poyet – ‘we have all dreamed of the day’
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