After bolstering the ranks with fourteen new faces from all over Europe this summer, Paolo Di Canio’s stringent yet promising revolution at Sunderland was understood to be in full swing going into the new Premier League season from the outside.
However, the Italian’s existence on Wearside proved to be short-lived – a meagre 13 games to be precise – after he was removed from the dugout last month with the club languishing at the bottom of the table following four painful defeats suffered in the opening five games.
Whilst luck was most certainly not on Di Canio and Sunderland’s side at times, for example, a controversial refereeing decision ruling out a perfectly fine Jozy Altidore goal against Arsenal, it was evident in recent post-match press conferences that an increasing sourness in the former Swindon Town chief’s expression had quickly replaced the enthusiastic sparkle that beamed so prominently last season.
Reports of several in-house bust-ups with unhappy players ultimately ended the honeymoon period that brought a derby-day win over Newcastle United on their own turf and a long-awaited victory over David Moyes’ Everton in swift succession.
Club owner, Ellis Short was then faced with the tough task of trying to find the right fit for the job, not only because of how quickly Di Canio was sacked, but mainly due to the fact that the last few men to have been selected for the position – Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and Di Canio – are all incredibly different in style and a particular type of presence, a builder rather than a busy shopper in the transfer market, has been desperately needed at Sunderland for several years as has a specific logic to the appointing system from above.
Short-term solutions such as, Ricky Sbragia, and Di Canio to an extent, have had to mop up from their respective predecessor’s mistakes at the Stadium of the Light of late and play the role of last-minute saviours by keeping the club just above the distressing drop-zone to the Championship.
Gus Poyet, who was a free agent after his sacking at Brighton & Hove Albion in June, has now been chosen as the boardroom’s ideal man with a plan and he will need to quickly pick up the pieces at the somewhat madhouse, calm the fresh chaos and instil the hunger to strive for Premier League consistency within the heart of Sunderland’s principles.
While that sounds like a difficult job to try and accomplish, it has been done at plenty of other clubs in the past whereas Poyet himself proved at Brighton that he is undeniably a man capable of defying the odds and building a firm structure that the fans can be tremendously proud of.
How Poyet Masterminded Brighton’s Evolution: A Background, Typical Tactics Used & What He’ll Want to Establish at Sunderland
When Poyet first arrived on the shores of Brighton and Hove as Russell Slade’s replacement mid-way through the 2009/10 season, nobody then could have predicted the flawless impact the Uruguayan was soon going to make on the touchline at a perennial mid-table side in the darkness of League One.
In a three-and-a-half-year tenure, the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder morphed Brighton from lower league champions into an expressive team on the cusp of the overwhelming Premier League dream, who embodied an inspiring possession-heavy way of playing that could only be admired by the neutrals.
Every year under the 45-year-old’s stewardship got drastically better and last season saw him take Brighton to the Championship play-off semi-finals, losing to Crystal Palace over two legs, but whilst that was an impressive feat, the Seagulls could just have easily won promotion to the promised land – only for 18 draws being the maddening stumbling block.
In 2012/13, Brighton lost as many games (9) as eventual league winners Cardiff City did under the guidance of Malky Mackay and the profusion of draws prevented Poyet from joining both them and Sunderland in the glamour of the Premier League this season.
[sws_blockquote_endquote alignment=”” cite=”Poyet’s thoughts on how to counter a side defending deep, which was an obstacle his Brighton side had to overcome a few times.” quotestyle=”style02″] When a side is playing really deep against you – usually when they’re trying to sit on a lead or play for a draw – the key is patience. The next key thing is to keep the ball. At Brighton, we train very hard on maintaining possession and it’s crucial in a situation such as this. Keep probing and looking for space, because a chance will inevitably come. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
His tactical preference of wanting to keep hold of the ball with serenity saw him frequently use the 4-3-3 formation, which easily reverted into a fluid 3-4-3 that slightly resembled Roberto Martínez’s setup at Wigan – including advanced wing-backs being deployed to use the space the attacking three created on the flanks by drifting inside.
Poyet’s Brighton unquestionably played some of the most pleasing on the eye football in the English game and the importance of maintaining the control of the ball and relying on the talent of players to win football games, like Martínez himself once said, were central to his philosophy and what he demanded of his team on the pitch.
Over the years, he managed to develop a Spanish-speaking contingent on a shoestring budget in the second-tier – with the likes of Bruno, Iñigo Calderón, Andrea Orlandi, David López, Vicente and Leonardo Ulloa – in order to get his open and expansive methods flowing whilst backing youth prospects such as, Liam Bridcutt, Kazenga LuaLua and Lewis Dunk also thoroughly paid off.
His trusted midfield trio of Dean Hammond, Bridcutt and Orlandi, who conjured up 11 assists last season, for example all brought composure, vision and creativity to the fore and they were the backbone of starting attacks and sustaining Poyet’s ideology of wanting to grasp control of the game first before plotting how to break teams down.
Poyet’s front three in particular was extremely similar to Martínez’s plan with Wigan at times, by opting for a winger/inside forward in Will Buckley or Vicente mainly in 11/12 whilst Ulloa, much like Arouna Koné, would stay centrally with an advanced playmaker in López being the man to drop deep, pick up the ball and carry forwards like Jordi Gómez and Shaun Maloney both skilfully done with the Latics.
But whilst the style of play – which ruled out long-balls as an option and instead instructed play to be built from the back – was simply gorgeous to observe, there were moans and groans aimed at Poyet from the stands, despite his obvious brilliance, concerning his tactical decision making during certain games.
A strong believer in playing the game the beautiful way, at times Poyet’s tendency was to change a player like for like and wouldn’t consider softly tinkering his tactics in order to go for broke and try to seal the win. Under his reign, The Albion once went two seasons without having come from behind to win a football match and that can only point to a certain degree of tactical inflexibility.
His Brighton side adopted a more conservative approach to the first-half of matches in order to tire the opposition down after long periods of chasing their shadows without the ball and counter that by stoking up the pressure in the second.
Perhaps if he had of tweaked his favourable system in certain matches that weren’t going to plan, Brighton might have turned a couple of their 18 draws into the wins that would have earned them promotion to the Premier League – finishing only four points behind second-placed Hull City with a far greater goal difference – and he’ll need to adapt and ensure that he has more than one trick up his sleeve with Sunderland although he now has a bigger squad to work with.
Poyet is inheriting players that can potentially slot into the responsibilities he craves on the field, with Adam Johnson being the proverbial inverted winger, Ki Sung-Yueng the linchpin in recycling possession and reading the game, whilst Emanuele Giaccherini or Fabio Borini could be used in a central position as the advanced playmaker.
He’ll want to get as many players who are comfortable on the ball on the pitch immediately and over the course of the season, Poyet will also be hoping to reap the best out of Andrea Dossena who had a good spell at Napoli when operating as a wing-back under Walter Mazzarri – winning the Coppa Italia in 2011/12.
[sws_blockquote_endquote cite=”Poyet when asked about the need for firmness at Sunderland” quotestyle=”style02″] I think every time that a new manager arrives, he wants to stay as long as possible and to prove that he was the right choice from the chairman. I am confident, I am a positive person but I don’t like to talk in advance. It’s too easy to talk now, say you’re going to do this and that, I want to show you. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
The primary target Poyet will want to bring to his new venture is stability above all and bearing in mind he spent almost four years in his first position in management, he has the qualities to do so should he be given the much-needed patience.
Poyet vs Di Canio: Similarities and Differences Between the Two
In terms of how they both got into management in the first place, Poyet and Di Canio are relatively similar in some aspects.
Both endured good playing careers in the top-flight before going onto begin life in the dugout through the lower divisions of English football and each found that their paths led to Sunderland at a similar age.
But in terms of their approach on-and-off the field and overall personality, both coaches have stark disparity between one another. While Di Canio was often criticised for his public condemnation and treatment of certain players after games, Poyet established a close-knit group within the Brighton camp and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll see him slate one of his own after a poor performance – although it was rare that his Brighton side played below expectations.
[sws_blockquote_endquote cite=”Poyet’s initial thoughts on where he’ll start engaging with his new squad after his unveiling on Tuesday” quotestyle=”style02″] I just asked them [the players] to pay attention. The next two or three weeks is going to be plenty of information, both ways, and I need them to be really aware, try to understand, to ask questions and to be involved. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
He is a lot calmer than Di Canio with his charming grin and his style of play will leave the Sunderland faithful purring if everything begins to click into place with him at the helm. But although he can effortlessly captivate fans with the way he speaks, Poyet upset some sections of Brighton supporters with the way he would often fail to play down speculation linking him with top-level jobs and his defence of compatriot Luis Suarez in the striker’s case with Patrice Evra in 2011 also didn’t particularly please many.
“Beware of the ego and constant strops” is a mantra that Poyet’s old backers have promptly delivered to his new ones following his recent rebirth into management and whilst he may have an abrasive touch to his character – considering his spell at Brighton eventually ended in bitterness with the club’s hierarchy – the south coast club wouldn’t be where they are today without him, although he is now more somebody that divides opinion amongst the fanbase rather than the man that was previously cherished to high levels.
Di Canio, on the other hand, arrived with the passion and enthusiasm that originally mesmerised Sunderland’s fans with his crazy celebrations and whether or not his final discussion with them on the pitch away at West Bromwich Albion was advocated, it showed he cared and was 100-percent focused on the task until his dismissal.
In comparison, Brighton’s chairman Tony Bloom claimed that Poyet asked to leave the club in March, with certain media outlets understanding that he had his eyes firmly set on a Chelsea homecoming after Rafael Benítez’s exit, and his patent affiliation to both the Blues and Tottenham could cause some anxiety for Sunderland supporters – as it’s likely he will snap up the chance to manage either club if the offer was put in front of him in the future.
Poyet’s Big-Game Mentality Could Gel Well with Sunderland’s Current Predicament
In his first few moments as Sunderland’s seventh head coach in the last five years when addressing the media, Poyet spoke about the need to “convince” the players to believe they can pull away from the foot of the Premier League table.
Even though it’s early doors in the campaign and the ‘Poyet era’ will need to be given time to flourish in the North East, he will still want to hit the ground running in a job that he has been preparing diligently for in the last two years and his hunger and drive to achieve should stand him in good stead for the rigours of the toughest league in the world.
In the last two FA Cup competitions, Poyet’s Brighton have been drawn against Newcastle United at home and subsequently prevailed in both – with each performance featuring as a great example to highlight his ability to win big games and make sure his players are mentally, as well as tactically, prepared for these types of clashes.
When taking into account Sunderland’s current quandary in the league, his aptitude to triumph against bigger teams will also help him along the way to pinpointing how to find a way to do it on a consistent basis – with the Wear/Tyne derby sitting just around the corner for the new man.
The experiences of playing total football with Real Zaragoza in the 90s – winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1995 – shaped the man and there aren’t many coaches in the game at the moment that have oozed a treasured manner of playing the game as both a player and now as a manager.
Despite the way it all ended in Sussex for Poyet, he not only incorporated a strong and iconic identity at Brighton but he has set down sturdy foundations for them to continue on being an entertaining force long after his departure – with Óscar Garcia, a man known for his links to the overpowering FC Barcelona, being a specific choice to succeed him and he may have never even considered going for the job had it not have been for what the man before him formed.
Poyet will want to bring a better desire to control games by retaining possession and using it in precise ways to taste victory at Sunderland, whilst he holds the key component of wanting to stamp down a clear distinctiveness in their style in a bid to reach long-term reward that the club have done without for years on his CV.
He’ll want to make Sunderland’s passing more purposeful, crisper in an attacking system and will want his players to completely dominate the midfield no matter who they’re playing against. Whilst O’Neill wanted to primarily use dangerous wide men such as, Adam Johnson and James McClean to win games for example, Poyet will instead yearn for more supremacy in the centre of the pitch and the club’s passing and dribbling statistics will soon amplify.
Whilst he may also come with some annoyances, that is a regular occurrence in the game and it’s only helped those who he has managed. Should he be given the freedom to expand, coach and develop in his image, Poyet can be a genuine success at Sunderland.