Prizes can mean points, says former Sunderland star Dennis Tueart

A Sunderland FA Cup winner who served Manchester City on and off the field, Dennis Tueart is well placed to view all sides of the League Cup final, writes Stuart Rayner

Dennis Tueart with the Capital One Cup
Cup winner Dennis Tueart with then Capital One Cup

When it comes to Sunday’s League Cup final, Dennis Tueart is able to see both sides of the story.

The former winger was in the last Sunderland team to win a major trophy, and the last Manchester City side to lift the League Cup.

When it comes to the debate about the merits of cup glory versus Premier League safety, the 64-year-old can also view it from both perspectives.

Tueart still dines out on the romance of the cups.

Last year he was on Wearside for a dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sunderland’s legendary 1973 FA Cup win.

Four years ago his 1976 overhead kick for City against his hometown club Newcastle United at Wembley was voted the greatest moment in League Cup history.

But having been a City director until Thaksin Shinawatra’s takeover seven years ago, Tueart is not blind to the importance of pounds, shilling and pence either.

Winning a cup has become something of a poisoned chalice in recent seasons.

A Birmingham City side featuring Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner beat Arsenal in 2011 only for their form to evaporate – and Premier League relegation followed. They are yet to get back to the top-flight.

Last year Wigan Athletic went down days after lifting the FA Cup – after beating Manchester City.

The solution of all-too many managers has effectively been to surrender from the cup competitions at the earliest opportunities, fielding under-strength sides to protect their chances of staying up, pushing for Europe, or even winning promotion.

This season Sunderland coach Gustavo Poyet has refused to go down that route, treating the League Cup as a help rather than a handicap to his side’s battle against the drop.

Tueart is delighted.

“First of all you get in the winning habit,” he says. “It breeds confidence, winning does that.

“The other thing is the revenue generated from these competitions. There’s millions coming in from television as well.

“If you balance it right, you’re guaranteed both.

“You’ve got to have a squad and the quality of players to do it, but sometimes you’ve got to grasp the opportunities when they come around.

“In ‘73 we had 11 players. If one of those 11 hadn’t played, we’d have struggled.

“We were fortunate we were able to get our best team out most of the time.

“From a football perspective win a trophy, tick a box.

“In ‘73 the Cup run stimulated our league performances. We were second-bottom of the Second Division and finished sixth. In the modern-day format we would have been in the play-offs. We just ran out of steam in the end.

“We were dead lucky because after November I think we only used 16 players. We played three replays, so there was a backlog of matches.”

If that sounds like an old-timer harking back to his days, Tueart can point to this month as proof of the positive effect of a cup run.

“The home game against Hull City they got 42,000,” he points out. “That’s what you can do.

“In November 1972 we played in front of 11,000 people (also at home to Hull). By March we were playing to full houses of 53,000 people (against Luton Town in the quarter-final). It’s a self-perpetuating fund revenue and if you get confidence from the cup games you get an increase (in income) for the league games. There is a financial revenue as well by winning the cup, by getting the coverage, by getting the feel-good factor, not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well.

“Your sponsors are happy, your supporters are happy, there’s a whole benefit from the profile of being in a cup final.”

Not that Tueart is blind to the dangers of relegation.

Sunderland were so far adrift when Poyet succeeded Paolo Di Canio in October that they are still not clear of the bottom three. As in 1973, the fixtures are starting to pile up. Unlike in Bob Stokoe’s day, the modern Black Cats at least have a squad better equipped to cope with it.

And bitter personal experience, not least in 2003, should have ensured the club have contingency plans in place should the worst happen.

“I’m sure all of the clubs in the bottom eight will have a strategy if they are relegated, they will have a financial model for it,” says Tueart. “I would be surprised if they haven’t.

“Nowadays contracts are being brought in to take account of that. When I was a director at Manchester City I brought in contracts where the youngsters only got half the appearance money if we got relegated. You had to have a safety valve because you still had to run a business.

“You’ve got to be prudent in that sense.

“I’m sure every team in the bottom half will have contracts with some sort of clause where they have that if they are relegated.

“You have to have an eye on the finances without question, and the Premier League is where the finance is, without question.”

But the message is clear – cup glory and financial success are not mutually exclusive.

:: Dennis Tueart was speaking on behalf of Capital One, the credit card company and sponsors of the League Cup.

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