Gus Poyet - The South American With an English Heart

t's an oft-used cliché, but, with an exciting and honest style of play, Gus is one of football's good guys - and will become an even more desirable commodity in world football. What odds on him one day representing England himself? It can surely only be a matter of time before the bigger clubs - or indeed the national team - come calling.

It will go down as one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history.

"The miracle happened", gushed a relieved Gus Poyet in the aftermath of his side's victory against West Bromwich Albion this week - a win which clinched their survival for another year; plucked from the jaws of the beast.

Ultimately, Wednesday's win was a fairly straight forward, typical end of season affair against a Baggies side who, in truth, looked like they were already on the beach.

But it cannot be overstated just how important those three points are to Sunderland Football Club.

When he pitched up at the Stadium of Light back in October, Poyet discovered a side fractured, abject and looking doomed in the aftermath of a turbulent and tumultuous tenure under feiry ex-boss Paolo Di Canio.

The Black Cats were disparate and desperate, with just a point on the board and languishing some seven from safety - and the size of the task must have been daunting even to a man of the Uruguayan's vast playing experience.

His Italian predecessor had left a squad full of odds and ends - different nationalities of cheap, on loan and mostly free players which just hadn't gelled.

But since his arrival, Poyet has led nothing short of a revolution in the North East. A series of spirited and hard-fought performances, including surprising wins against top four opposition, propelled his side not only to Premier League survival with a game to spare, but also to the Carling Cup final, which they lost to the mighty Manchester City.

In short, he has taken 11 players, and made them into a team. I think that it is incredible that, given his achievements in that time, he is not being touted for the Manager of the Year accolade this season.

For all of the plaudits he is receiving now, though, it must be said that, at the time, his appointment certainly represented a gamble on behalf of Sunderland owner, Ellis Short - and he deserves much credit for making that brave decision.

Desperate to bring in a likeable and calming influence following the chaos reaped by previous incumbent Di Canio, the Chairman was clearly hooked by Poyet's passion, intelligence and enthusiasm, but with no top tier management experience, plenty were sounding a death knell for the Mackems.

That's not to say that the Uruguayan has taken any shortcuts to the Premier League promised land, though.

Poyet has certainly put in the leg work en route to top level football management, learning the ropes as an assistant since his retirement in 2006, until taking the reins at Brighton in 2009.

Those who he served under during that time came with big reputations, and were often quick to take credit for the success of those sides - but it is no coincidence that their managerial skills have been very quickly found to be flawed since Gus decided to go it alone.

One thing that you learn when involved behind the scenes in football is that the game has a habit of finding out those chancers, unable to cope with the demands of such a transient and quick-moving game, very quickly. In short, the cream rises to the top - which is where Poyet now finds himself.

And, through excellent coaching skills, and the odd dash of tactical brilliance, the manager is fast proving that he is a match for any of the 'elite' managers, not only in the Premier League, but across the continent.

Sunderland simply must tie him down to a new deal at the Stadium of Light, or they risk once again sinking to the depths at which they found themselves before Christmas - and that would be disastrous for the Mackems.

There is a real conscious movement within the sport towards playing the game in the 'right way' - direct, exhilarating and scintillating football - and that is a principle that has served well not only Poyet, and the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, this season.

And, with an illustrious playing career behind him, the man from Montevideo certainly has plenty of experience in exciting fans, having spent years as a pivotal part of sides playing very easy on the eye, yet effective, football.

Pitching up in Europe from his native Uruguay in the late 80s, the classy midfielder plied his trade in France at Grenoble, before settling at Real Zaragoza in Spain - the club where he would go on to burgeon a real reputation.

Seven years at La Romareda, in which he helped his side to the Copa Del Rey in 1994, and played a pivotal role in the defeat of Arsenal in the European Cup Winners' Cup final a year later - a game which will be burned into ex-Gunners keeper David Seaman's memory for all the wrong reasons.

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, and with an infectious enthusiasm, the player quickly became Los Blanquillos' longest-serving foreign player and a real fans favourite in Aragon, but it was his performances on the national stage which were beginning to catch the eye of bigger clubs.

A series of incredible performances to propel his country to the 1995 Copa America saw Poyet crowned Player of the Tournament, and it was inevitable that such an accolade would spark a clamour for his signature - a battle won by Ruud Gullit's Chelsea in the summer of 1997.

Of course, it was at Stamford Bridge that the star's creativity and ability to dictate encounters from the middle third of the park really began to shine through. Four glorious years followed in London, during which Poyet got his hands on the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup for a second time, the UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup, and the Charity Shield.

The South American cemented his place in Blues' history, scoring 36 goals in just over 100 appearances during his tenure at the club - and it is testament to his dogged workrate and loveable personality that, even after Claudio Ranieri farmed the ageing player out to Chelsea's rivals Spurs in 2001, his popularity never faded.

Indeed, as a lifelong Blues fan, I'm delighted to see Gus, such a student and passionate man of the game, doing so well off the pitch, just as he did on it. Over here in Spain, his managerial exploits are beginning to receive attention, too.

Still a hero down at Real Zaragoza, many are keeping their eye on his progress in the Premier League, and one thing's for sure - if he ever fancied a move to Spain, he would have plenty of potential suitors.

For now, though, such a move appears extremely unlikely. Nearly two decades since first pitching up in the capital, the Uruguayan still seems enamoured with all things English football.

His son, Diego, who has just this week scooped the Player of the Year trophy at my old club, Charlton Athletic, is a real chip off the old block, and has already been making waves on the international circuit, too.

But he doesn't wear the sky blue of his father's country, La Celeste. Poyet Junior has said that he considers himself English through and through, having spent all but two years of his life in London, and his voice contains no latin lilt. He even captained the Three Lions in a clash against Uruguay at youth level.

It's an oft-used cliché, but, with an exciting and honest style of play, Gus is one of football's good guys - and will become an even more desirable commodity in world football. What odds on him one day representing England himself?

It can surely only be a matter of time before the bigger clubs - or indeed the national team - come calling.

After all, for a foreign manager, Poyet is about as English as they come.


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