LA LIGA has proved a happy hunting ground for Sunderland boss Gus Poyet after playing more than 200 games for Real Zaragoza and targeting the Spanish market while manager at Brighton.
The Echo’s Chris Young spoke to Spanish football expert Graham Hunter over whether he expects Poyet to retain those links while in charge at the Stadium of Light.
AMATEUR super-sleuths are already dusting off their binoculars.
The transfer window is a Mecca for eagle-eyed supporters attempting to spot potential signings in the vague vicinity of the Stadium of Light.
Robbie Keane almost enjoyed a permanent residence at Seaham Hall, given the amount of times he was supposedly staying there.
But it’s a shrewd bet that Gus Poyet will be seen checking-in at Newcastle airport heading towards Spain over the coming weeks.
La Liga has proved a fruitful recruiting ground for Poyet during his brief management career.
During the final 12 months of his Brighton tenure, Poyet was one of the few Championship bosses who turned his attention to the Spanish market.
Valencia duo Bruno and Vicente, Huesca’s David Lopez and Almeria’s Leonardo Ulloa – already linked with a reunion with Poyet at the Stadium of Light – all arrived at the Amex Stadium.
These were not players signed on the word of an agent.
Poyet put in the miles, travelled to Spain, picked out the recruits and landed them for a fraction of what they would have cost had they possessed a British passport.
There has already been a pledge from Poyet that he will do likewise at Sunderland.
He told the Echo last week: “I want to watch the players if I can. The problem is the games and getting to them.
“But if at all possible, I need to see them live.”
Spanish football expert Graham Hunter, who has known Poyet since his playing days at Real Zaragoza, says that speaks volumes for the Uruguayan’s dedication to his craft.
And he firmly expects Poyet to continue concentrating on La Liga – both in January and during the summer – as he looks to reverse Sunderland’s fortunes.
Hunter told the Echo: “For longer than the last couple of years, you could come to Spain and get players for a fraction of what you would pay in England, but get quality too.
“My feeling is certain managers are not willing to do that.
“They’d rather listen to an agent, than go and see a player for themselves.
“I get a lot of phone calls from managers who ask me about x, y or z and I say ‘go and see them for yourselves’.
“It was to Brighton’s benefit and now to Sunderland’s, that Gus is not like that. He puts a premium on scouting.
“If he is given a say in signing players – and that is still a bit unclear with the director of football (Roberto De Fanti) – then Sunderland will be more attractive and more athletic and better value for their season ticket holders.
“That is what you get with Gus because he works so hard.
“I would be shocked if he did not look at the Spanish market again.
“If he is given the ability to research and sign players, I would be surprised if there were no signings from La Liga because there are high quality players here whose wages are dwarfed by the trappings of the Premier League.
“I have to point out though that he will always sign players based on their ability, not their nationality.”
Poyet was part of a hugely successful Zaragoza side, which included current Real Madrid technical director Miguel Pardeza and maverick Argentine striker Juan Esnaider.
Los Manos lifted the Copa del Rey and Cup Winners Cup during Poyet’s seven-year stint in Spain – the latter stemming from Nayim’s famous lob over Arsenal keeper David Seaman from the halfway line.
While they remained in the shadows of Madrid and Barcelona on these shores, Zaragoza enjoyed success through both a physical and technical brand of football – a philosophy which Hunter believes Poyet has taken into his management.
“People in Britain are unaware of how big a club Zaragoza is,” said Hunter, a regular on Sky Sports programme Revista de la Liga.
“They had a terrific history in the 60s when they were extremely strong and battled with the best ever Real Madrid side.
“Gus was part of a team that was arguably the last great Zaragoza side.
“It can be a hostile place to visit and there was an idea there that they would work their socks off and play above themselves.
“When you look back, they had some really superb players and Gus was seen as the attacking force in the side.
“They went 14 months without suffering a defeat at home which shows you how tough it was to play against them. The year they won the Cup Winners Cup (1995) they beat Barcelona 6-3.”
Zaragoza overcame Chelsea in the semi-final of their Cup Winners Cup run, as Poyet first came on the radar of his future employers.
Poyet arrived at Stamford Bridge in 1997 and spent four years at the club, where he played alongside club captain Dennis Wise, who immediately made the Uruguayan his assistant when he took on the manager’s job at Swindon Town.
“You have to remember there were all different types of character at Chelsea then – tough guys, noisy guys and guys with egos,” added Hunter.
“But Gus stood out.
“He had the energy to correct his flaws and that has been transmitted to his management.
“I make no secret that I am not a fan of Dennis Wise at all.
“But Dennis is very calculating and when he started in management, he was always going to pick an assistant who was going to make him shine.
“That was an early indication of what the team at Chelsea thought of Gus.”
H Graham Hunter is at the Tyneside Cinema, in Newcastle, on Monday night to launch his new book, Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble.
The evening will include a talk from Hunter – who travelled with the Spain squad for their 2010 World Cup triumph and 2008 and 2012 European Championship victories – followed by an extensive question and answer session.
Tickets are priced at £7.50 and are available from https://grahamhuntertyneside.eventbrite.co.uk/ or search for ‘Graham Hunter’ on eventbrite.co.uk.