View From The Bridge: Quality over quantity needed

Gus Poyet.
Gus Poyet.
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NO doubt it was all go in your house on January 2.

You will have stayed up until midnight to link arms, warble Auld Lang Syne and welcome in the transfer window.

The fun lasts until 11pm on February 2, when you can snuggle up in front of Sky Sports News and watch live swearing from local hobbledehoys standing behind a reporter at Stoke City’s training ground.

The city of Sunderland is buzzing with transfer talk, so I shall take you into my confidence here. Using my extensive list of contacts, I am now able to give you this plenary account of what I know of comings and goings at the Stadium of Light.


As usual, my mind is awash with unfounded rumours. Not only do I occasionally peruse the national tabloids, the cold weather has forced me to take several taxi journeys of late. But I don’t feel any better educated for it.

Sunderland supporters can agree on one thing; they will just have to trust the manager.

Except that there is no manager. Gus Poyet said last month: “I am a head coach.”

“I am not going to be a head coach when it suits and a manager when it doesn’t. That side is down to recruitment.”

Poyet’s stiff-armed predecessor tried that one when he pretended that the recruitment of the rubbish he bought in the summer of 2013 was not his fault guv, when in fact he had final say on all of the signings.

But that was then. It would be nice if the club could provide some clarity on who has say-so now.

If it is true that “that side is down to recruitment,” then it seems rather coincidental that two of Poyet’s signings happen to be players he knew well from his previous club.

More importantly, his comments in December contradict what he said in October, when he told the Echo: “I’ve got a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a player.

“Every player who comes here, I agree.

“There is no one among the ones we signed in the summer that I said ‘no’ and the club said ‘yes’.

“That doesn’t mean I choose every single player. Let’s not be naive.

“There is a working system, a recruiting system where we look at players and look at options and from those options, we’re going to pick one or the other.

“Borini and Marcos Alonso were easy for me. They were my picks.

“They are not here, but Buckley was my pick and he is here.

“That was no recruitment system, it was me.”

Has there been a change of circumstances since October? Is there a misunderstanding? An outright argument behind the scenes?

In the absence of answers to those questions, we can amuse ourselves by bickering over the quality of the signings made by/under Gus Poyet – and who should be brought in now.

Poyet’s recruitments, including loans, fall into three categories; “good,” “getting there” and “well-he-looked-great-on-YouTube.”

The first category includes Pantilimon, van Aanholt, Gómez, Réveillère, Alonso and (pushing a point) Larsson. The second includes Álvarez, Rodwell and Bridcutt.

The third category has a starring role for Ignacio Scocco.

Poyet has a small and peculiar gaggle of detractors who concentrate almost exclusively on Scocco when discussing the Uruguayan’s transfer dealings. Mentioning the good signings would encumber the negativity so beloved by some.

Let us at least see who the new signings are before condemning them. Poyet has done reasonably well on a relatively modest net spend.

Meanwhile, if anyone out there can introduce us to a manager who will never sign a dud player – then get us a picture of his unicorn while you’re at it.

PERHAPS it is the impending general election, but some rather one-sided versions of recent history are doing the rounds.

All is not well at SAFC. But that does not mean that anyone who cites grounds for optimism should relocate to Toytown.

Pessimism is not a crime either, but it would be easier to respect the opinions of those denigrating Gus Poyet, if they themselves had some respect for facts that happen not to suit their “argument.”

This is not to say that anyone should delude themselves that certain facts make unpleasant reading. The most sobering fact from this season is that Sunderland have won only three from 20 league games, with one victory from 10 at home.

But they have only lost six. Only five teams have been defeated on fewer occasions. Needless to say, wins are better than draws. But the 11 points from draws this season are more than useful – and welcome.

Of the other 19 clubs, 15 have garnered more points from home games. But only nine have more away points.

The inability to score is important; so are clean sheets.

Should anyone take into account ALL of the relative facts and figures, then declare themselves pessimistic, then their opinion should be listened to.

However, when people call radio phone-ins to mention the three wins from 20 and that everyone in the Premier League is brilliant except Sunderland, while wilfully disregarding any fact that could derail their negativity; then excuse the rest of us for rolling our eyes.

As “evidence” some of these people cite single games, or even halves of games, carefully selecting the very worst, while disregarding the better ones. Here’s a bit of balance:

H Gus Poyet has made mistakes and plenty of them.

H Poyet was given a basket case in October 2013 that had taken one point from 24. He has since taken 57 from 50 games.

H Every Sunderland fan - and not just the bleaters – thinks that the team should be doing better and has loftier aspirations than 14th.

H Sunderland’s nine remaining home games are against the current bottom five, plus Aston Villa, Newcastle, Liverpool and Southampton. They won’t all be disasters like the Hull game.

You cannot reason people out of a position that they did not reason themselves into. But when did reason come into it for the everything-is-terrible-crowd? The optimists are aware of all developments – good and bad. The end-of-the-worlders have apparently only noticed the bad.

Pessimism is not the same as realism.

NONE of the above has prevented some over-the-top, yet far from unexpected criticism of Sunderland in the FA Cup third round.

Indeed, they really ought to have done better against a team as bad as Leeds United. Chances went begging and the home side’s performance deteriorated as the game progressed.

But now the good news.

No Premier League team played particularly well. More importantly, the performance doesn’t matter because the tie was won. Trust me. This is how it works in cups.

At the same stage last season, even worse opposition was defeated in an even less memorable match when Carlisle United were beaten 3-1. The performance had no ill-bearing on the rest of the season.

However, defeat to the likes of Carlisle or Leeds would have had a bearing; a very unhelpful one. QPR will try to convince themselves that elimination from the FA Cup has its benefits. But a good twonking at home to Sheffield United is unlikely to have done much for the cache of vim and vigour at Loftus Road.

Last season, Fulham were also eliminated by Sheffield United enabling the Londoners to concentrate on relegation. Cardiff City also fell to lower league opposition (the other demoted side, Norwich, lost to Fulham).

There is now a home tie against Fulham or Wolves and I would welcome another uninspiring show if it gave the same result as Sunday. Should Sunderland make the fifth round, they will be one of only 11 Premier League sides at most – and all 11 making it is unlikely.

You may as well harbour the fantasy of winning the Cup for as long as you can.

Football – and the FA Cup in particular – is there for that reason.

IT is entirely the business of Newcastle United why they showed so little enthusiasm for the FA Cup at Leicester; although “business” might be a clue. The cup provides much more glamour than cash these days.

Was Saturday’s team picked entirely by that caretaker bloke, or was other influence exerted?

We may never care. Either way, it did nothing for the career prospects of the current managerial incumbent, with shrill cries of “Thingammyajig – out!” reverberating around the King Power Stadium.

The club’s likeable owner is unlikely to appoint anyone who would cost him anything in excess of £7.50 in compensation. Other than that, there is no clue as to who the new man might be. It could still be what’s-his-face.

Certain journalists are claiming that there is a shortlist and are even pretending to know who is on it. It is all pure guesswork and no more educated than that of the average punter.

Even the bookies don’t have a clue. At the time of writing Steve McClaren is favourite, but as far as we are aware he has not lost his marbles.

Last week it was Steve Bruce, before it was realised that a man who had previously managed Sunderland, twice turned down Newcastle in the past, would cost millions and who said he was staying at Hull – might not be such a hot tip after all.

As usual, bets can be placed on Ant and Dec as this is evidently hilarious. Even they are only 100/1.

IT is predictable, transparent, amusing, but really a little sad.

A bad result for Chelsea means that their manager will say something patently untrue to obscure his side’s shortcomings – and everyone knows it.

Following a routine cup victory over Watford he said nothing of note.

But after failing to defeat 10-man Southampton 10 days ago, a less ridiculous person would have merely mentioned that Chelsea should have had a penalty, as indeed they should.

José Mourinho claimed, with his usual level of proof, that there was “a clear campaign” against his team.

Who is conducting this vicious “campaign” which has dragged his team all the way down to the top of the league?

According to the Spurious One: “People, pundits, commentators, coaches from other teams.”

Hmm, them. Thought as much. Especially “people” because you know what that lot are like.

He was back on New Year’s Day after Tottenham had rattled five past his defence. The turning point of the game came with the score at one-nil to Chelsea, when the referee (who is no doubt in on the conspiracy) callously made the completely correct decision not to award the visitors a penalty for handball.

José then tried to tilt future decisions in favour of his star diver Eden Hazard, saying: “The way match-to-match he’s being punished by opponents and not protected by referees.

“Maybe one day we won’t have Eden Hazard. It’s one, two, three, four, five, 10 aggressive fouls against him. They kick and kick and kick and the kid resists. He’s a very honest guy in the way he plays, but that’s another problem.”

As we said, amusing, but really a little sad. The band of sycophants who regard Mourinho as “a character,” rather than simply obnoxious, is dwindling.

The number of people who fail to see through his clunkingly obvious attempts to influence officials in future games must be approaching zero. The under-fives and people called Marriner must be the only exceptions to this.

Are we now at the stage where it is reasonable to assume that anything José Mourinho says in interviews is inherent cobblers?

Not quite. On Thursday he also said of his side: “In the 20 league matches we have played we have been the most offensive team.”

Just for a change, José was bang on with that one.