Gus Poyet interview: Sunderland manager planning for the future despite uncertainty

Sunderland boss Gus Poyet is taking an interest in under-18 and under-21 sides as he plans for the future at SAFC

Stu Forster/Getty Images Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet

A few hours after the dust had settled on Sunderland’s deeply unsatisfactory point against Crystal Palace, Gustavo Poyet was back at the Academy of Light.

The reason for his Sunday visit? To watch the under-18s. This has been a regular pilgrimage in recent weeks for the Black Cats boss, who has also taken a keen interest in the under-21s.

He has been, he admits, “in daily contact” with Kevin Ball and Ged McNamee about the performance, playing style and results of the club’s underage sides.

As the battle rages for Sunderland’s Premier League future, it is instructive. As well as trying to shore up their position in the top flight, Poyet is also plotting a longer-term vision and that involves him mapping out a playing philosophy for the club’s younger players.

Pretty soon every boy in red-and-white will be playing with the possession-centric philosophy that the Uruguayan has demanded from his senior side.

For a club that has had more new directions that top-10 finishes this century, the renewed focus on laying down long-term foundations is to be welcomed.

Plenty might come between Poyet’s vision and it being played out in practice but, in the weekend when Arsene Wenger passes 1,000 games at Arsenal, it is a concession to thinking ahead from a club that has had too much change in recent years. He says: “Of course you concentrate on the immediate things, but when you have time you look beyond them.

“For example, now we have a sporting director who can answer the phone to all of the agents. That gives me time.

“Sunday afternoons I have been looking a bit at how the Under-18s have been playing and the Under-21s the other day, to make decisions on players’ futures and when we can train with them, have contact with them.

“We have had the meeting with the Under-18s after the disappointment of Newcastle in the FA Youth Cup. I told them what I would like them to do. I watched a bit of the games last week because we were here. I have watched a pattern of play we are trying to set up in the academy, when we are doing well, especially away from home.

“In the Under-21s we are practically in daily touch with them, deciding on players who are going to stay. Even if we only see Saturday, at 3pm, we are doing all of the other things that need to be done.”

Other managers might want to delegate those responsibilites but Poyet is clearly beginning to think beynd his two-and-a-half year contract with Sunderland. Short-term thinking is not for him.

“That’s my character. I want to be part of it,” he said.

“You can’t just concentrate now and just finish the season by getting safe with a late goal and go ‘It’s a nightmare, I’ve got 11 players signing for other teams and everything has gone’. I hate that. It would be starting from zero. Even minus 10.”

Not that Poyet doesn’t understand the importance of the pressing business at hand.

In a week when Sunderland revealed losses of £23m – and admitted in their accounts that losing Premier League status would hurt the business – Poyet feels the burden of keeping the club in the Premier League. He said: “I do feel that responsibility, but I love responsibility and pressure. I want to make sure that we start to make money or not lose as much money.

“It is important that we pay attention to the academy and have stability and so that you don’t need to keep sacking managers, paying them off, starting from zero and rebuilding.

“And having a sporting director and then, again, having another sporting director. That’s how also you lose money.

“It’s about stability. It is difficult because you have the pressure of the fans and everyone thinks you should be Champions League, Europa League, but that’s not possible. The 10 teams at the bottom can have the same fight, care as much as the opposition, run as much as the opposition and there are still three teams that go down.

“Sometimes you can’t get safe because you have done something wrong. You didn’t win enough points before. It’s not from what you do now.”

Inside the club, there is no doubt that survival is seen as key to keeping the club on track in the short-term.

Defeat in that goal, along with the raft of contracts that are coming to an end, would see a very different Sunderland lining up for the first game of next season. Stay up and the club are quietly confident the era of relegation battles will come to an end.

The problem is that Poyet is currently stuck in between two stools: battling to keep Sunderland up with a squad that he has serious doubts about while also planning for a long-term future that is uncertain.

If his survival mission succeeds, it will be a remarkable achievement given Sunderland’s predicament when he arrived.

“The owner and the chief executive knew it was a challenge and I want to pay it back. That is very important to me,” he said.

“Staying up can change the future of everyone at the football club and mine as well. No doubt the focus is on that. We have to believe we can build something important for the club.”

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