Poyet delay suggests Ball is in Kevin's court

Journal chief sports writer Mark Douglas gives his thoughts on the vacant permanent position as Sunderland manager

Sunderland caretaker manager Kevin Ball
Sunderland caretaker manager Kevin Ball

Gus Poyet wants to manage Sunderland. He really, really, really wants to manage Sunderland.

From cold calling the Black Cats’ alternative options to broadcasting his wishes to a Uruguayan radio station, Poyet has hardly tried to keep this fact secret.

In Sunderland’s Director of Football Roberto De Fanti, he has pretty heavyweight support for his claims and a CV which would seem to make this a slam dunk.

So why – almost two weeks after Poyet’s appointment was announced as a virtually done deal by an Italian journalist with direct access to De Fanti – is he still sat by the phone waiting for a call?

Something just doesn’t stackup. The former Brightonmanager remains the heavy, odds-on favourite for the post and is available with no compensation attached to him.

The journalist in question, who announced confidently it would be Poyet’s job in 48 hours, has not suddenly become an incompetent.

Yet it’s not Poyet’s job and Ellis Short is sticking stubbornly to his private pledge to carry out thorough due diligence on all of his favoured candidates.

Poyet’s problem is his exit from Brighton was rancorous and, after their experiences with Di Canio they need someone who can make this a smooth transition. They require a unity candidate and, glancing through the list of possibles, Poyet probably scores the lowest on that front.

Don’t underestimate how important this is to Short.

He will have recognised the Sunderland brand was tarnished by the furore which followed his appointment.

Fans may have felt their club was victimised by the legitimate debate surrounding Di Canio’s political affiliations but it was fair game – and it made international headlines of the sort Sunderland have never sought.

For a man who takes pride the work of Sunderland’s Academy and their superb Foundation, Short is sure to have bristled at that.

If Poyet gets the job, I can confidently predict the first batch of questions will centre around who it was who pooed on the floor of the dressing room before Brighton’s play-off semi-final against Crystal Palace.

The next will be about the former Brighton player who called him “selfish”, “egocentric” and the “worst person I’ve ever worked with in football.”

The narrative will be whether Sunderland have themselves another Di Canio.

It’s probably a bit unfair but that’s how these things work. Baggage is never checked at the door when you arrive at a new managerial destination.

So Short faces a dilemma. Listen to De Fanti (again) and take another risk or go for a safer candidate?

Kevin Ball is known to have impressed staff with his methods and has improved since his last caretaker stint.

He would be a truer representation of Sunderland’s values too, that set of working-class principles which first attracted Short to invest in the club. For these reasons, this might just be the most important weekend of this or any Sunderland season.

The result and response of the Black Cats against Manchester United will be studied forensically and could have a huge impact on the club direction.

Poyet will be waiting nervously, aware a red-and-white collapse on Saturday – perversely – strengthens his case.

All the available evidence suggests the job might just be Ball’s to lose.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer