Here is a piece of good news for Sunderland fans nervously anticipating their banana skin clash with Carlisle tomorrow: Gus Poyet has opened talks with a top international striker with World Cup experience.
What’s more, he’s a player that Sunderland have been trying to get for as long as they’ve been back in the Premier League.
“I can tell you the only player I talk to is Diego Forlan,” an exasperated Poyet said in response to another query about the progress of his January transfer plans.
“We have a good chat about football and life. He got married, he’s been on honeymoon in Maldives. He’s a good friend of mine and he’s enjoying his football at Internacional,” he continued, with a glint in his eye. So are you signing him, Gus? “Bring it on!”
It was the same sense of mischief when he was asked about the snowballing speculation that Steven Fletcher might be on his way out of the Stadium of Light this January, with Stoke, Hull and Celtic all supposedly waiting in the wings to make a move.
“They didn’t call me or make any offers. It’s speculation and rumours. I’m interested in Ronaldo but apparently he doesn’t want to come to Sunderland. Too cold!” he said.
“We can say things and talk and make opinions and make it look incredible and we want to do this or that, but do it and then we’ll talk.”
Here is Poyet’s problem writ large: he knows the January transfer window holds the key to Sunderland’s salvation but there’s a flurry of important fixtures in the meantime. It is this need for pragmatism that led to the briefest of post-match press conferences after they had messed up against Aston Villa on Wednesday. Poyet might be finding it difficult to hide his dismay with the mistakes being made by a squad that has run out of credit on Wearside but he’s got to juggle that frustration with his desperate need to summon performances from them.
With that in mind, tomorrow represents a trip to the last chance saloon for the likes of Cabral, Ji Dong-Won and Craig Gardner. All could feature in a game that represents a potential banana skin for struggling Sunderland.
“They’re first-team players. I would like to say that all the players we play are good enough,” he said.
“We’re playing against a team that will give everything, it’s the game of the year for them so far. They will bring plenty of supporters which is going to be even more important for them so we have to go and show our quality.
“We’re supposed to be fitter than them because we’re Premier League players. We should be better than them mentally and physically.
“I don’t want to be the picture in Monday morning’s papers of the Premier League team that got knocked out. I hope the players feel the same way.”
Poyet was at least a bit more effusive about his team efforts yesterday, admitting that a surfeit of quality in the final third was his biggest concern. He was unapologetic about his admission that he is “fed up” with the way his team keep conspiring to shoot themselves in the foot.
He said: “I think I’m realistic. Why would I come to the press conference and make it up? I’m realistic.
“I’m not really a stats man but look at the stats. I see managers saying the more you put the ball in the box and the more chances you get to score. Fair enough, that’s great. We had 21 shots in one game, 19 in another and 16 the other day and hit the target once.
“Well how many do we need to score a goal? 50? No, you need more quality.
“The most difficult thing in any sport is consistency. Anyone can have a good game or a bad game but to be good all the time: those are the good ones.
“I’m not asking for 10/10 all the time. If every single player gives me seven in every game we’re going to win plenty of games but we don’t get to seven.”
Defeat to Carlisle would be a punishing blow. He admits: “It is embarrassing (to lose to lower league opposition). They play the best game of their lives and they cannot score from two yards and hit the post and miss three penalties and the referee makes three bad decisions then I will have something to say, of course. It might happen – it wouldn’t surprise me!
“The situation depends on how you go into the game and how you take it.
“At Brighton we got a very good Newcastle one year and one with many, many problems one year and we took advantage. I don’t want to give any possibility of excuses.”
As almost a naturalised Brit, Poyet’s enthusiasm for a competition that he played in and won remains absolute. But he feels the fixture scheduling rather than a lack of lustre is what is killing the FA Cup.
“I still don’t understand how you can play football again after two days. I keep saying to the people in charge that if you want the best players on the pitch and quality you need to give us a chance to recover. If not, you make changes and people get upset.
“They make us (the managers) responsible when they are the ones who are responsible by putting the fixtures out. Saying that, again these are first-team, Premier League players.
“I’m looking forward to the game. I remember one of my first games was in the Cup for Chelsea and there were so many photographers taking pictures and I didn’t understand why. They said they want to see if you’re the ones who get knocked out by a lower league club.”