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Promising performance from Sunderland's new boss Poyet
DRESSED smartly in a black suit and sporting a red and white club tie, Gustavo Poyet turned and took his seat in the media suite at the Academy of Light. Smiling, and without the support of his chairman, Ellis Short, he delivered his plans for Sunderland.
Measured, intelligent, persuasive and an outbreak of much-needed common sense after the histrionics of Paolo Di Canio's six-months in charge. More crucially the official parading of Sunderland's new manager was done without any drama.
Given the fanfare and attention Di Canio's unveiling received, and what followed, this was exactly what was required. Only time will tell if more controversy will follow, but Poyet has got off to an encouraging start. The sort of start Short, you would imagine, would have hoped for.
The Uruguayan's work will not truly start until the first whistle is blown at Swansea City on October 19, but the build up will be spent familiarising himself with a squad he has inherited and the club he is now fronting.
This is a big step for Poyet; his first front-line managerial post in the Premier League, even though the description on his employment contract states 'head coach'. Nothing has fazed him so far, and given the life-changing decision he made 16 years ago he is satisfied nothing will.
“In 1997 I made a big decision. I was 29 and had my family in Spain with me,” said Poyet, recalling the summer when he left Real Zaragoza for Chelsea at the end of his contract.
“Everything was perfect and then they came in for me from Chelsea. I said 'why not'. It was a massive decision, a life decision. It changed my life. It really did.
“This isn't as big a decision. This is a challenge I'm facing. That one was a family decision. All of those things had to be taken into consideration. Now I have one kid playing for England (Under-16s, Diego) and one watching cricket on TV.”
Having inherited a group of players consisting of 14 summer signings, mainly acquired from abroad by director of football Roberto De Fanti, Poyet must try to help the foreign contingent adjust.
Sunderland are rooted to the foot of the Premier League, with a measly point from a possible 21. He said: “I know how difficult it is to settle in to life in a different country.
“I need to make sure I help the players here a lot. It is very important we pay attention to them and their families. You can't imagine how important it is to do that.”
One of Di Canio's biggest flaws during his time at Sunderland was his failure to embrace the dressing room. He made too many changes, too soon, and ruffled some of the old guard.
Poyet has shown in the past he is not afraid to anger certain members of his dressing room. Former Spain international Vicente was strong in his criticism of him when he said in June that Poyet 'was the worst person I've come across in football'. And added: “For me he is a selfish person, very egocentric. I say that because it’s how I feel.”
Poyet laughed off such talk. He said: “It's funny that because I thought you would have asked about the other 20 players who spoke well about me. I am not bothered because it is one of 60 I had at Brighton.
“If it was 20 players saying that I probably wouldn't be here to be honest. I am not bothered about Vicente, we tried to help him as much as we could. We treated him by putting him on the pitch as soon as we could. He didn't play a lot and that was the payback you get.”
The comments from Vicente followed Poyet's sacking at Brighton in June. He had originally been suspended and the reasons were the source of much speculation. A difference of opinion over a spending budget was cited, as were claims of excrement being left in the Crystal Palace dressing room before May's Championship play-off semi-final at the Amex Stadium.
Legal action over the reasons for his dismissal have since been mooted and when asked if that will continue yesterday he brushed it off.
Poyet smiles for the camera as he meets the North-East press for the first time
“Brighton was painful in the last few months. It is difficult to explain,” he said. “This is good because it is time to move forward. It's good for me to start to talk about Sunderland now, it's gone.”
Sunderland supporters will remember one of his other controversies after retirement. He was infamously sent from the dug-out by referee Graham Salisbury in December 2006 as assistant manager at Leeds United for deliberately throwing a second ball on to the pitch when Sunderland led 2-0.
“That's one of the most embarrassing moments in football for throwing the ball on to the pitch. You could make a book about it for two days. It was incredible,” said the 45-year-old, raising his hands in the air, cringing.
Poyet also recalls a bizarre moment after he was part of a Chelsea team subjected to a 4-1 defeat at the Stadium of Light when he scored a consolation with nine minutes remaining.
He said: “The other story I have from here at Sunderland was when they made me man of the match when we lost. You can't make me man of the match, I thought it was a joke. I didn't want to go and get it. I refused to five times. There were 200 people in there and I received the ball. It was embarrassing and I wasn't even looking at them. They had Kevin Phillips and the big man up front (Niall Quinn). That was hard to take.”
With such bad memories still prevalent in his mind, Poyet is keen to look to the future. With his first day as Sunderland manager over, he now knows it is time to achieve what many of his predecessors failed: a Sunderland turnaround.
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