Friday spotlight: Poyet a refreshing and positive change for Sunderland

Gus Poyet enjoys a joke at training. Picture by Kevin Brady
Gus Poyet enjoys a joke at training. Picture by Kevin Brady
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AS local media, I think we can say we’ve seen enough of Gus Poyet already to conclude with certainty that he is no Paolo Di Canio.

That’s not a comment on the myopic nature of your Sunderland reporters – (yeah, we knew they were different people!) – but on the fact that it has quickly become apparent that the Uruguayan’s style is very different from the Italian’s.

This is Poyet’s first success.

In the short term, it is likely to be an important one, as players and fans get to grips with the new man in charge and realise there is a clear difference between the old regime and the new.

Poyet might find comparisons between himself and his predecessor strange and inexplicable.

But, after the last six months, it was inevitable that anyone connected with Sunderland might fear, upon the new man’s appointment, that the club had just swapped one passionate, combustible, lower-league, overseas manager who left his previous club under a cloud, with another.

It is not the case.

There are points of similarity between the two men – their self-confidence and self-belief which stems from their elite playing careers, their willingness to work long, unsociable hours, their utter absorption in and enthusiasm for the game.

But Poyet is a far more inclusive personality than Di Canio.

The Uruguayan has left no-one in any doubt who is in charge of course, but his Sunderland will be more of a collective, than a dictatorship.

And while, from a journalist’s point of view, Press conferences might be less colourful, unpredictable and theatrical from now on, there’s also the sense that the club is entering a more measured and stable era.

The key difference, though, is that while under Di Canio there was always the suspicion that this was all about the individual (and one individual in particular), Poyet is all about the team.

With Poyet, there will be no playing to the gallery for the sake of it, or long monologues castigating individual players – it will ALL be about the team.

There has been plenty of evidence of that already, with the new manager’s insistence that the training ground language is English to avoid cliques developing – something he learned from his time at Chelsea.

There has also been his willingness to engage with the existing staff, in particular Kevin Ball, rather than to build a separation..

His decision to include and involve Phil Bardsley with the first-team squad will not be a welcome one with the majority of fans one feels – something the new head coach understands.

But it will go down well with the squad, where Bardsley has been a popular character and where the feeling exists that he was very badly treated by Di Canio.

As a player, Poyet made no secret of the fact that he would live or die for his team-mates and that the very best sides he played in were the ones where the ties were closest and the friendships deepest.

There is a limit to what he can achieve in a couple of weeks, especially with so many players having been away on international duty.

But you can be sure that near the top of the list is nurturing that sense of unity and togetherness from which all good, genuine teams emerge.

Refreshingly, he has not yet talked about himself in the third person.

It was always a disconcerting moment when Di Canio said something like “Paolo Di Canio has to do whatever it is Paolo Di Canio feels he has to do,” as though he was talking about someone else in the room.

The feeling that under him there was only space for one alpha male in the camp was exacerbated by the sidelining of natural leaders inside the team like Lee Cattermole and Bardsley, to the point where, when natural leaders were needed to drive on the side, the Italian bemoaned he had none.

Poyet will not go down that road.

And his bold, if controversial decision to bring Bardsley back into the fold is not just a pragmatic one, but also a practical way to bring more unity to the camp.

In a stroke, he has demonstrated Sunderland have a strong leader willing to take difficult decisions and also one willing to give a player a second chance.

It might not bring immediate results, but there is no denying there is a more relaxed atmosphere around the camp since Poyet replaced Paolo.

The new man wants the players to enjoy their football, as well as treating it as work.

He will treat them like grown-ups and hope they do not let him down and abuse his trust.

The emphasis will be on solid, passing football from now on, rather than the all out attack, with a 4-2-4 formation, that the Italian favoured.

And he will sacrifice any personal views he has on how he would prefer to play football, if another style brings results.

All of this is not to trash Di Canio completely.

He desperately wanted to succeed at Sunderland and had he continued in the same vein as he did against Newcastle United and Everton, the Echo, as well as the fans, would be hailing him to the heavens.

The reality is, though, that managers are judged on results and, although Di Canio talked the talk, he could not get his team to walk the walk.

For that simple reason, he failed, and had to go.

“A season without suffering,” he promised the fans on the eve of it, but he delivered the worst Sunderland start to a season in Premier League history – and that includes the 19-pointer and the 15-pointer!

He has also left Sunderland in an almighty mess which Poyet has been charged with turning around.

Whether he can do it remains to be seen.

But it is clear already that he will do it his way.

And we can tell fans with confidence that his way will be Poyet Mk 1, rather than Di Canio Mk 2.

Twitter @sunechograeme