Gus Poyet: building on the team spirit instilled by Bally

Gus Poyet by Owen Lennox
Gus Poyet by Owen Lennox

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 Garraghan
Daniel Garraghan

* 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’


Monsieur Salut, Paris-style, by Matt
Monsieur Salut, Paris-style, by Matt

Salut! Sunderland on tour at ESPN: ‘a nervous welcome but let battle commence’

12 thoughts on “Gus Poyet: building on the team spirit instilled by Bally”

  1. In Poyet’s interview on Safcsee the thing I liked was when he said his team would “look after the ball”. Sounds simplistic, but our team will improve substantially if it improves it’s ball retention. Possession is such a big part of the game. We’ve been weak in this area. For example Johnson has a decent ‘assist’ count, could chip in with a few more goals….we all know this. But the most frustrating part of his play is his tendency to lose possession. We’re then under pressure. It’s why Catts is more effective than the alternatives. He wins the ball and helps us retain possession in midfield. Away to Swansea is the perfect chance to see this in action. They’re dangerous if you let them play around you. Without the ball they don’t have too much in terms of ball-winners. We need to look after the ball. No more hoofing from central defence. Get it on the floor. It as good enough for Cloughie.

  2. I want to say We need a 4 to 6 years manager. Not a trade off. Look at Arsenal, with Wenger. Are you telling me we get the Manager wrong every time? We have something wrong, and I do not think it takes a mastermind to see where.

  3. I guess, with Poyet, there is a final attempt to gain a glimpse of flair. He did that at Brighton. Whether we stay up or not, he has 2 years. If we get back up next year. Well done. I guess.

  4. Like most, I am uncertain over Poyet. But to add another perspective, and look at it from his eyes. Clearly ambitious and no Premiership takers while at Brighton for his services (buyout cost perhaps).
    So this may be his last chance at a relatively big club in England. If he has the will to succeed, and get this across to the players, then we may get out of the mess we are in. Like Daniel says , we have a better squad of players than more than three other sides

  5. Like most fans i’ve spoken to i’m not overly confident Poyet can save our season but i’m not upset about his appointment. He seems to bring genuine quality to his teams so there is a glimmer of hope- even if it is tainted with the usual weight of past experience of supporting Sunderland. We all know the familiar situation we find ourselves and unfortunately it tends to have the same outcome- relegation.

    However, the one thing that gives me a teeny tiny bit of hope is I believe we have seen nowhere near the best of some of our recent signings. It’s difficult to judge a player when he is under a regime like PDC’s. None of them were able to play with any confidence or freedom. There was a definite improvement under Bally, let’s hope Poyet can take this a step further. Every manager, or in our case director of football, signs some turkeys now and again. You just have to hope more turn out good than bad. We aren’t a top club so don’t have the pick of the best players. It’s a combination of good management and strong team spirit which lifts the average teams up a level. Keep the faith… even though it’s not easy!

  6. After the last few weeks I find myself trying to be optimistic about everything and I guess I am now that the chap that has ruined this season and the club has gone. At least there is a chink of light that under Poyet we may have a fighting chance of staying up. Seems ludicrous after 7 games but this is the situation we find ourselves in. Am annoyed at Short “gambling” with the clubs premership status with the Di Fanti situation, we have not improved quality wise season after season which surely after working with Bruce and O Neill Short knows this is what is required just look at Southampton and Swansea for that we have gone backwards.Both Bruce and Mon bought quality and both bought rubbish. Di Fanti has done the same, all managers do Sir Alex bought some rubbish also. We have lost quality and strength in key positions over time. Having one quality centre midfielder is not good enough still playing a midfielder at left back not having one dominant centre half is killing us. Our only hope is Mr Poyet realises his strongest team as soon as possible and we can address the key areas we need to strengthen in and stay up and add quality again. Also questions need to be asked to ensure we don’t end in this mess again. A nice new 5 year plan would be nice or we will lose our Premiership status again. I thank Short for his financial support of sunderland but he has to accept responsibility for this mess . I really thought those days were gone 2005 etc. We need to learn lessons from this so it’s not repeated. It’s not acceptable for sunderland afc not to have a team that can’t compete in the Premier League. Can’t believe the warning signs of the last 3 seasons have not been heeded. I for one aren’t sure we won’t do all this again if we get out of this current mess. I for one think we’ll be rebuilding again the Championship next season. It’s a disgrace the club we all love is in this mess through gross mismanagement again. All I want is a team that competes in the Premier League and too be able to watch the weekends football on television in a state of contentment. Good Luck Gus Haway the Lads.

  7. All the optimism is hearting, but the cold reality of the situation is that the form book of the past few seasons does not lie.

    Essentially we still have the same kernel of players who have failed to perform season after season and what Poyet must do is get the few who are capable of being match winners, Catts, Johnston, Giaccharine, Fletcher to perform to their upmost and the next level of supporting cast members, Ki, Celutska, O’Shea, Gardner to try their hearts out. He must also ensure that whoever is on the Subs bench can step in and maintain the tempo of the midfield as we will have to work hard to make up for our lack of quality in the middle.

    If we can do this together with astute tactics and formations than survival will be possible but as Wellington said of Waterloo it will be ‘a close run thing’. The players really have to sign up to Poyet and stand and be counted. If reports are true and they were suggesting a British appointment well they didn’t get it and we can not stand anymore dressing room rebellions, knuckle down and get on with it for the good of the Club and not themselves for a change.

  8. I saw Villa v Bruce’s Hull on Saturday. Eminently beatable. Danny Graham missed his usual chance, Elmo was fitfully good…then substituted. Meyler came on as a sub….no change there. Villa without Benteke looked quite ordinary. Our squad has enough talent to take points of these and other clubs. We can draw away to Swansea, beat Ncle and Hull. Suddenly our position will be less perilous.

  9. It’s refreshing to see such optimism surrounding the current situation. Even at 21 you should be old enough and sufficiently embattled to have had that sort of positivity drummed out of you 🙂

    On a more serious note, Poyet needs to get off to a winning start and get some points on the board. If we could get a win and a draw in his first couple of game then the tide will be behind him.

    In all of my years of following SAFC I’ve never felt so uninspired at a change of manager. Having had three different ones over the last seven months, I may not be alone.

    • Never felt so uninspired at a change of mangers. What even when we appointed Howard Wilkinson?

      On a more serious tone though Jeremy who could we have really expected to get given our recent playing record and regularity with which we sack managers?

      Perhaps if we had been sitting in mid table then the likes of Zola and Solskjaer might have shown some interest. I lost hope when MON failed but like everyone else will support Gus. At least he had the courage to take on this thankless task.

      • At the time of Wilko’s appointment the excitement was that in Steve Cotterill we had also appointed one of the up and coming talented young coaches. I remember at that time expecting great things from from him. We know the outcome and the reality. I got excited about MON too. I won’t be making that mistake again. I hope Poyet does well but he comes with baggage. Fingers crossed he can bring some stability and decent results to the club.

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