The Lars Word: as the screaming subsides, beware the late-night Beretta

As seen by Jake
As seen by Jake

In his first article here after a spell of stunned silence, Lars Knutsen reflects on a heady weekend and contrasts the styles of the successive head coaches …

Well, what do we think? Gustavo Augusto Poyet Dominguez, aged 45, was installed as our head coach and after his excellent initial interviews, expectation built that he could turn things around at the Stadium of Light.

So he talked the talk well, but after that shocking and precipitous second half collapse at Swansea, home town of my father, the omens were not good. To be honest, I have not been writing much, because I was in fear of another 15-point Premier season … and who wants to relive that unmitigated trauma? Actually, after one point from eight matches, I thought 15 points might be a tough target to reach.

Sunday’s excellent win and performance against Newc****e has changed the mood and put Poyet straight into the “incipient legend” category. Just as Paolo Di Canio will come to be remembered fondly for the 3-0 win at St James’, and that suit-ruining knee slide, we know that whatever happens in the future, the Uruguayan will have his share of hero status. I really hope he goes on repair the damage consistently, bring us up the table and become the long-serving manager we all desperately want.

What was so gratifying about Sunday’s defeat of the enemy tribe was the intensity of the performance. The tackling, concentration and team effort were superb. Fletcher and Borini could not have been more welcome scorers, except perhaps for Cattermole, who has never netted for this club. Fletcher is a modest character in front of a microphone, but put him in front of goal with a headed chance and he is deadly. Resilience has not been a strong point this season but the way we came back after the equaliser and kept our heads, setting the scene for Borini to take his late chance, was just terrific. There will be a different, feel-good dynamic on the training ground this week.

Jake: 'flying high (for once...')
Jake: ‘flying high (for once…’)

So looking back on my weeks of writer’s block, what was it that finally provided the bullet for the unforgettable and inimitable Di Canio? Ostensibly it was the caucus of senior players and their secret meeting with the club’s CEO, Margaret Byrne, soon after the catastrophic 3-0 defeat at West Brom late last month. She then delivered a damning and fatal verdict on the Italian’s regime, and his time was over. But the meeting was just a reflection of what trauma the club has been experiencing.

Two things stood out for me. First was the public criticism of players. One of the universal rules of football coaching is that honest and open dialogue takes place in the dressing room with the door closed, and the manager backs up his players in public. Despite my dislike for the man, Alex Ferguson was an excellent exponent of that strategy.

Secondly there was the sale of Stéphane Sessegnon, a truly classy, game-changing player. He was sold like a piece of meat after being stopped by police for driving under the influence during the Black Cats’ defeat of MK Dons in the Capital One Cup. Sess duly scored the first goal in that abject Baggies defeat which (along with the damage done by that players’ revolt – ed?) proved the final nail in PDC’s coffin. So we lost one of our stars who then tormented Man Utd in the Baggies’ win at Old Trafford. This illustrated Di Canio’s inability to tolerate the human flaws of those who can be geniuses on the field.

Earlier, I had seen the Southampton game, which we very nearly won and to be honest that was a very cohesive performance, as was the second half against Arsenal. But despite some good displays at times we did risk being cut off at the bottom of the best league in the world.

The eccentricities of the PDC period at Sunderland would of course have been tolerated had we been winning games of football. The wretched surrender in certain key games was hard to take as a fan. The dismantling of the backbone of the team by sale of our stars, or the banishment of players such as Catts and Bardsley, who have significant Premier League pedigree, to train with the U-21 boys was just unacceptable. There has to be some way back for players who have transgressed and happily Poyet has now provided that.

So I now consider myself officially relieved of my promise made on these pages to read about Italian fascism, and try to explain Di Canio’s salute. Can I just state that my initial studies showed that terrible things happened under Mussolini. Italy is new to democracy, and in the same way as we fail to understand the ex-prime minister Berlusconi’s depraved and erratic behaviour, we can see that the culture clash between the players and PDC showed how difficult it can be to understand Mediterranean ways of doing things.

I heard a phone-in show on TalkSport just ahead of his appointment which suggested that while Di Canio will scream at a player, Gus Poyet may come round late at night with a Beretta…

I am so glad he kept the metaphorical bullet for those deluded barcodes.

10 thoughts on “The Lars Word: as the screaming subsides, beware the late-night Beretta”

  1. Up front we’re suddenly looking strong with Fletcher, Altidore, Borini and Giacharini to call on. Options there to change the game as was shown on Sunday, amazing what one win can do!

  2. Phil Bardsley gave 100% for us on Sunday, but I still prefer Celustka in there. Looks more solid and sharper. Maybe Poyet went for experience this time.

    Brave decision to leave out Giaccherini but perhaps Poyet thought he might be a little lightweight for a rough and tumble derby.

    Altidore was a thorn in the flesh for Newcastle on Sunday, and I’m waiting for his confidence to improve and I’m sure we’ll see more goals.

    Johnson shows flashes of brilliance but for too long he’s anonymous and can have a whole game in the shadows. There might be a case to bench him. On the left wing we have an embarrasment of riches: Giacc, Mavrias, Borini. All can play out there.
    I might be arm-twisted into starting Johnson on the right (where I think he’s more effective). Notwithstanding his cross for Fletchers goal, his crossing is generally not quite good enough imho.

    I think we need just an injection of confidence. Hopefully its come through the N’cle game.

  3. I recall applauding a cracking Poyet goal for Chelsea against us at Stamford Bridge, in the days when fans still occasionally did that. Somebody with a better memory might be able to fill in the details. I didn’t know anything about his management style before he arrived but I’m definitely warming to him. His interviews have been sensible, he comes across as positive and I liked his joking on MOTD. I had the impression from the start of the match that the players knew what they were meant to be doing. They looked calmer and more assured and didn’t lose it when N**c***** equalised. However, games turn on small pieces of fortune – had Fletcher not been fit things could have been so different. This is no criticism of Poyet – quite the opposite – as his team selection and subsitutions proved astute, just that we are very reliant on good goalscorers.

    • 7 Aug 99, first game of the season lost 0-4. Poyet scored 2. We, of course, won the return 4-1, Poyet scored consolation. Game included SKPs wonder goal. (Courtesy of StatCat).

      • Eric, I remember the 1999-2000 season well. That first game was discouraging, but we did take revenge at the SoL. Kevin Phillips’ goal was amazing, and it is on Youtube.

        The following season we did the double over Chelsea, with a great 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge. Don Hutchison (2), a rare goal from Gavin McCann and of course, SuperKev. Poyet was a sub. is the best website, present company excluded of course…

      • Thanks Eric. I liked it when we occasionally applauded the opposition – doesn’t seem to happen much now or maybe it still does at away games.

  4. I for one believe it was Di Canio’s decision with both Ji and Sess Malcolm. If it was about money then Short would have accepted the offer for Ji, surely?

    With Ji I think Di Canio watched his performances in Germany and saw that Dortmund wanted him, thought he could get a lot more from him than his predecessor given how much he slagged O’Neill off.

    Selling Sess was all about Di Canio’s impatience and intolerence, deciding he didn’t want to know after 1.5 games of doing admittedly little. This impatience is highlighted by the fact he subbed a player at half time in every single game this season. Then there was the drink driving thing while we were playing. I know some fans would say get rid but both of these decisions were serious errors of judgment by Di Canio imo.

    Despite this as long as we’re close points wise to 17th we should have enough quality to stay up. Doubtfire’s team is awful and look a good bet to go down, making Saturday a pretty big game already. As long as we keep up the effort and bottle from Sunday we will hopefully get another priceless win. Maybe hope does spring eternal after all 🙂

  5. We followed our last win against the mags by beating Everton, the effort was sustained even with Di Canio’s eccentricity’s in the players heads. Poyet seems more rational Baretta or not so hopefully we can keep this form up till the end of the season , because that’s what it’s going to take. I have belief now which I didn’t have before Sunday.

  6. What struck me about Poyet’s selection on Sunday, his first after having had a whole week to look at the squad at the training ground, was that it could almost have been a Martin O’Neill team. After the much hyped summer transfer activity the only permanent signing to make the starting XI was Altidore. Celutska, coming off the bench, was in my opinion unlucky not to start as I don’t think he’s done a lot wrong, but let’s not forget that Dossena, Borini and Ki are just ours for the season.

    Poyet has inherited a squad that includes Ji and not Sessegnon. Di Canio can take the blame for “losing the dressing room” and having a negative effect on team morale but who should we blame for signing a raft of players who don’t appear to have brought much to the club or for whatever reason haven’t settled? From what I’ve seen I think Giaccharini and Roberge are also decent signings. I thought Cabral looked good against Fulham but something is obviously not right and I take on board Sixer’s opinion that he didn’t look good playing for the Development squad.

    If press reports are to be believed it was PDC who wanted to keep Ji and not Sess but ultimately I believe that decision was out of his hands as nowadays the coach isn’t responsible for the hiring and firing.

    Although Bardsley’s actions were idiotic, just like Lee Clark’s wearing of the tee shirt, neither of those players have ever given less than 100% in a red and white shirt so I’ll welcome him back if he lets his performances on the pitch do the talking. Similarly Catts’ recall has been a good move and he seems to have finally matured as a player.

    I hope that the team will kick on next weekend against Hull as we still have a difficult run of home games coming up and even a second win won’t get us out of the relegation places.

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