Poyet’s personal touch sealed Defoe deal for Sunderland

Sunderland's Jermain Defoe.

Sunderland's Jermain Defoe.

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BARRING a catastrophic defeat, Gus Poyet is invariably found outside the dressing rooms fully engaged in conversation after the final whistle.

Poyet is a personable guy. He loves to chat football with opposition players, managers and backroom staff, regardless of whether he has come across them before or not.

That personal touch clearly played a major part in Sunderland’s capture of Jermain Defoe.

Poyet had played alongside Defoe at the tail end of his career at Tottenham, and then had a brief spell in charge of the England striker when he was assistant manager at White Hart Lane.

So when Sunderland became a front-runner in the race to bring Defoe back to the Premier League, Poyet was immediately able to gauge whether it was a non-starter or if the Black Cats had a genuine hope of landing the much-coveted 32-year-old.

“When the club was happy to start seeing the possibility of Jermain, the first thing I did was talk to him,” said Poyet.

“I knew he would tell me the truth and would be straightforward and honest.

“We played together and I coached him for a few months.

“I needed to know that and I was able to say ‘if it’s a no, that’s not a problem, but I need to know’.

“When we got his answer saying it was a possibility, then of course it was up to the club.”

The respect is clearly mutual.

Defoe wanted to return to the Premier League after a 12-month spell in the MLS had turned sour, with Sunderland – and Poyet – offering an attractive route home.

“It was good over in Toronto, I enjoyed it,” Defoe told the club website.

“But for me, the Premier League is the best league in the world and when you step away from it, you realise how good it is. To be honest, I just missed it.

“Gus is a good man. Even before I met him, before I signed for Tottenham, he was always someone I admired as a player at Chelsea with the goals he scored from midfield.

“I spoke to Gus on the phone many times and he said ‘It is a fantastic football club, you will enjoy it here’.”

Poyet had cut a frustrated figure over the last month or so with Sunderland’s attacking problems after the Black Cats had netted just 18 times in 21 Premier League outings.

But his mood was a stark contrast at his weekly press conference yesterday.

Poyet was unable to wipe the smile off his face after a signing which he believes has fulfilled his hopes of bringing quality, rather than quantity, to the Stadium of Light in this window.

“I was asking for quality up front, so now there are no excuses,” he said.

“The responsibility is always on the manager and when you’ve got the players you need, even more so.

“Now it’s up to me and the players to make sure we win football games and find a way.

“There’s not going to be any more complaints whatsoever.”

Defoe’s signing has already caused Poyet a pleasant problem, over how to get the most out of the former Spurs man.

Sunderland have stuck to a 4-1-4-1 formation this season after working on that system throughout the summer.

But Poyet is keen to play with a front two now after Defoe has predominantly thrived with a strike partner throughout his career.

Sunderland have already been experimenting on the training ground with various systems, albeit Poyet is unlikely to deploy anything radical at White Hart Lane today.

But the head coach believes there will be evidence of a fresh approach in the subsequent two home games against Fulham and Burnley.

He said: “Yes we’ll have to change and we’ve already trained this week. It didn’t look fantastic, but it was the first time!

“We’ll train again next week and try one of the options against Fulham because there’s two or three options with two up front.

“Hopefully against Burnley, everything is clear and we can go with a new formation.”

“It will take a few weeks to adapt, but we still need to look to win the games.”

Even before he takes to the pitch at his old stomping ground this afternoon though, Defoe has already had a positive effect.

After the manner of last weekend’s defeat to Liverpool had left a dark cloud hovering over the club, the mood has been boosted significantly by the capture of the prolific frontman, one of only 24 players to reach the 100 Premier League goals milestone.

“The atmosphere at the club, the players’ reactions, training with him and seeing how he looks after himself, will help, without a doubt,” added Poyet.

“If he starts scoring, he’s going to be one of the favourites.

“Exciting times!”