GUS POYET feared Seb Larsson would leave the Stadium of Light for nothing last summer, but believes Sunderland are now reaping the rewards from their successful contract negotiations.
Larsson was the only one of eight out-of-contract players to agree fresh terms with Sunderland at the end of last season after the Swedish international penned a new three-year deal with the Black Cats.
With Sunderland’s Premier League status hanging by a thread for the vast majority of last season, discussions with Larsson didn’t commence until the end of the campaign, when both Premier League clubs and suitors on the Continent were casting their gaze towards the 29-year-old.
But. after Larsson played a key role in Sunderland’s survival, the former Arsenal and Birmingham City man has continued his renaissance this season after a man-of-the-match contribution to the Black Cats’ Tyne-Wear derby triumph last weekend.
Poyet told the Echo: “We picked three, possibly four, who we wanted to keep (last season).
“We started negotiating and the negotiations were not very good, especially the Jack (Colback) one, which we stopped after the cup final because we couldn’t win.
“We stopped with everything really because it was not fair on the players.
“They wanted to play in the Premier League and we would have been committed to certain salaries without knowing (in which division Sunderland would be playing).
“That made us lose most of the free players, so being able to keep one and, in this case, Seb was very important.
“At one stage during the summer, I thought Jack was more probable than Seb, but then it was Seb and not Jack.
“That shows you how the negotiations can go, but I’m pleased Seb made that decision.
“We thought he was outstanding against West Ham, but I thought he was even better against Newcastle.
“I think he realises how important he is for us and how well he’s adapted from the moment I arrived at this club.”
Larsson was converted into a central, rather than right-sided, midfielder under ex-Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill, but he wasn’t always convinced by that positional change – a feeling shared by many supporters.
But in Poyet’s three-man central midfield, Larsson is now arguably playing the best football of his career, with the Sunderland head coach not contemplating restoring him to a wide role.
“Everybody knows it’s no coincidence that he’s got number seven and that’s where he’s played all his life (on the right),” added Poyet.
“But, because of his quality, understanding, energy and what he can do with the ball, he will always be infield.
“He can give us a hand wide every now and then, but I think he’s very important for the way we play.
“Last season, I think he was too tense, but after the way we finished the season and how he was playing, now he’s completely relaxed.
“We talk a lot because he’s a very easy person to talk to, he’s mature and he will answer your questions.
“You know how he feels and how much he enjoys that position.
“That knowledge of what he needs to do, the people who are around him and the freedom to run makes him feel important.
“Seb knows the position perfectly and he’s really enjoying it because he’s more in contact with the ball and he has a bit more freedom.”