Thanks for the Memories Gus

Gutted pretty much sums it up. That’s the only way to describe the feeling when the news broke that Gustavo Poyet was becoming the third Sunderland manager in a row to fail to complete a full season.



Not that it isn’t the right decision, because it’s pretty much the only decision Ellis Short could make. But still, it’s certainly not a moment of happiness, like when Sgt Wilko departed 12 years ago.  

Gus was supposed to be THE one. He was going to be the fella to actually do something with us. To see out a few seasons and leave a bit of a hero, the one we’d all look back on and think “he really improved us, we played good stuff under him”.

He took us to a Wembley Cup Final. He beat the scum three times. He provided us with the greatest of escapes, including wins at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford. There’s very few of our managers over the last 30 years such a list of highs. Even better, he achieved most of the above playing a decent, attractive attacking game. We weren’t Barca, but at least we tried to knock it about and had an identity.

And then, it happened. One afternoon in mid-October, Santiago Vergini does as Santiago Vergini will, and scored the most outrageous own-goal anybody has ever seen. It was so spectacular, even Andy Melville was in awe. As everyone knows, we then capitulated, Southampton scored 7 more (well, 5 more, we scored 2 of them) and history was made.
 
That was it. From that point on, Poyet bottled it. He’s been consumed by fear ever since, terrified of mistakes. The problem is, in a passing system mistakes will happen. You have to allow your defenders to pass it out from the back, and you must expect that sometimes glaring errors will happen. It’s a risk you to just have to live with, if your principles mean so much.

But he couldn’t do it. Increasingly, long balls were floated forward. Passes went sideways with more and more regularity. We stopped trying to pick holes in the opposition, and became a horrible mish-mash of the worst of our managers. We combined the insane-complexity of Wilkinson, the crippling fear of Sbragia, the negative stupor of O’Neill and, by the end, the lack of identity of Bruce.

We commented on this after Swansea away . On the face of it, a decent point but as on so many occasions this season, the result masked a dreadful performance. With the exception of Newcastle away (a perfect away performance), and Chelsea at home (a very professional performance), we’ve never played better than ‘alright’ since Southampton.

The dilution of Poyet’s philosophy has been evident for all to see for months now, however the last 2 months has seen it dissipate altogether. He’s been criticised on many occasions for lacking a Plan B, but by the end it was his complete abandon of a Plan A which has killed him.

Over the last 6 matches, we’ve not played the same system in any. There’s been a few 433’s, one go of 442 with four centre-midifielders and very defensive full-backs, a 442 but with proper wingers stuck with defensive full-backs, and a 442 with attacking full-backs.

No consistency of system. The only consistency throughout was some bizarre change to a weird direct-style of play which involved pumping the ball either at the midget Jermaine Defoe, or the world’s most ineffectual striker, the anonymous Danny Graham. Even in his attempts to introduce more directness, Poyet couldn’t throw any caution; the refusal to commit his full-backs forward against West Brom and Hull was as telling as his justification (“what if we get beat 5-0?”).

By the end, there was a feeling of desperately trying anything, hoping it might work. Obviously, it didn’t. Had he been braver, had he stuck to his guns we probably would have lost a few more games this season, but chances are we would have won more as well.

Even after Spurs last season, the 5-1 debacle, most people gave Poyet time because they could see what he was doing. He had a plan, he wanted to imprint his style on the club. Sadly, as we sit here desperate for a(nother) survival hero, it turns out that although we had faith in his formula and style, the man himself couldn’t quite bring himself to see it through.

Still, hopefully time will be kind to Poyet. For all it’s ended disastrously, he did give us the aforementioned dream moments. As a club, pretty much our only realistic ambitions are staying up, playing good football and doing well in the cups (people championing Sam Allardyce might want to consider how the last two of those would work out under our former centre-back). For 7 months, Gus Poyet gave us all three in exhilarating circumstances.

Being a football supporter is about the glory, and remembering the highs, especially when you have so many lows. So therefore, let’s be generous to Gus for everything you gave us. It all went wrong in the end, but for a brief moment you shined as bright as any manager in a long time. Thank you for that.



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