ATTENTION will revert back to the domestic stage this week after the 2014 World Cup reached its conclusion last night.
But what lessons can Gus Poyet and Sunderland take from the events of the last month in Brazil? CHRIS YOUNG ponders five things to be drawn from the World Cup.
1. SOUTH AMERICANS SHINE ON HOME SOIL
SUNDERLAND’S relationship with players from Gus Poyet’s home continent has historically proved to be a largely unsatisfactory one.
Setting aside Julio Arca, too many revered South Americans have proved to be duds when they have arrived on Wearside – Claudio Marangoni, Nicolas Medina, Paolo da Silva, Milton Nunez, Cristian Riveros etc.
Even the ones hand-picked by Poyet in the January transfer window enjoyed mixed success; only Santiago Vergini making a significant contribution in the final month of the campaign, while fellow Argentine Nacho Scocco looked miles off the pace and is now on the verge of leaving the Stadium of Light.
There was a similar discrepancy on display in Brazil.
Misfits from English and European football suddenly pulled on the shirt of Chile, Mexico, Colombia or Costa Rica and became world-beaters.
When they come across the Atlantic, it’s invariably a different story though.
Perhaps it’s a mentality problem. Players burst every sinew for national pride, yet when it comes to their club responsibilities...
There is surely a bigger factor though. Those who look so impressive to scouts when they are playing in their native South America, simply struggle to bridge the cultural and footballing differences when they arrive on these shores.
If they do manage to adapt, it invariably comes at the end of a six to 12-month bedding-in period.
However well Poyet knows the market in South America or has been impressed by those on show in Brazil, he must be wary of that chasm when it comes to Sunderland’s future recruitment.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE
TWO footballing philosophies looked to have reached the end of their natural life span at this tournament.
The tiki-taka, which was so brilliantly mastered by Spain at their height, has now almost become sluggish and predictable.
Equally, the cagey, sit desperately deep and counter-attack ploy – one which was Martin O’Neill’s grand plan at Sunderland – has thankfully been showed up as unnecessarily negative.
Those teams who have done well at this World Cup have showed some ambition.
They have done it by going back to the basics too – elementary one and two-touch pass and move, while ensuring possession is not needlessly squandered (a trait which yet again proved to be beyond England.
Germany have been the masters of it. They have not got the outstanding magic of an individual such as Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo, yet were simply devastating in their semi-final romp over Brazil.
Poyet began to overhaul Sunderland’s style with that objective last season.
The Uruguayan’s possession-based outlook has harboured the flexibility of going direct and putting crosses into the area, rather than being restricted to simply tiki-taka.
He’s on the right track with the current trends. The question is whether the quality of players can be brought in to master it and how effectively they can do so.
3. THREE AT THE BACK CAN WORK
GUS Poyet faced the first genuine criticism of his reign when he opted to experiment with three centre-halves in the desperate search for Premier League points last season.
Supporters could accept deploying three at the back at Liverpool in a bid to harness the Suarez-Sturridge double-act, yet when Poyet persisted with the formation in a home defeat to West Ham, the question marks spewed forth.
Poyet (pictured above) was so eager to land upon a winning formula, he was willing to try anything to achieve the victory which at that stage looked like forever eluding the Black Cats.
But the World Cup highlighted the renaissance in a formation which has not been seen regularly since the late 1990s.
The hugely impressive Chile side came perilously close to conquering the hosts with three centre-halves.
And semi-finalists Holland were defensively resolute with a similar system, albeit they almost exclusively relied on their front three to offer an attacking threat.
With Louis Van Gaal’s arrival at Old Trafford, it would not be a surprise to see Manchester United similarly operate with three at the back in the coming season.
Given the right circumstances, Poyet may well follow suit,
4. JOZY ALTIDORE’S POINT TO PROVE
AS SOON as Altidore (pictured above)pulled up lame midway through the first half of the USA’s opening group game, he knew his World Cup was realistically over.
Despite all the sound-bites emanating from US boss Jurgen Klinsmann about how Altidore “still had a chance” of featuring in the tournament, the Sunderland striker wouldn’t have had another opportunity unless he was involved in an unlikely semi-final or final.
The 24-year-old has tried to make light of his devastation at being limited to just 20-odd minutes of World Cup football.
But the only Sunderland player involved in Brazil will be hurting for several months to come at being so cruelly struck down by injury on the biggest stage of all.
The World Cup was supposed to be Altidore’s big chance to shine.
His form for his country has been a stark contrast to his woes on the domestic stage and he had the overwhelming support of both Klinsmann and the American public behind him.
The tournament offered both a chance to regain some confidence and perhaps open a shop window to a summer departure, if Sunderland were tempted to get their money back on the £7million invested 12 months ago.
Instead, Altidore will have do it the hard way, put his desperate maiden campaign at the Stadium of Light behind him and prove he can make the grade in the Premier League.
Given the body-blow he suffered at the World Cup, Altidore will surely be looking to bounce back from adversity.
5. THE END OF THE TARGETMAN?
JOZY ALTIDORE, Connor Wickham and Steven Fletcher all come from a similar mould.
Sunderland’s trio of strikers are big, powerful frontmen, asked to play with their backs to goal while bringing others into play.
But there was a pattern of sides moving away from having that orthodox targetman leading the line and opting instead for a more diminutive, tricky forward, capable of dropping much deeper.
Arsenal have just spent £30million on one in bringing in Chile’s Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona.
Will Poyet eventually follow suit?
Certainly, at former club Brighton he enjoyed success in using Craig Mackail-Smith – a player who has been tentatively linked with Sunderland this summer – on the shoulder of the last defender, while he buzzed around the back four.
Mackail-Smith rarely played with his back to goal, in the manner that Wickham, Altidore or Fletcher have been used during the vast majority of Poyet’s games at the Sunderland helm.
The former Peterborough striker’s remit was far more similar to Fabio Borini’s in the Capital One Cup final.
The personnel Poyet has inherited have largely dictated that Sunderland play in such a way so far during the Uruguayan’s stewardship.
But long-term, will Poyet ditch that British football institution of the “good, old-fashioned” centre-forward?