Gus Poyet has been convinced by Sunderland’s supporters that winning a cup means more than staying in the Premier League.
The Black Cats boss prepares to lead out his side at Wembley for the club’s first major final in 22 years absolutely certain that winning the Capital One Cup would be a more important achievement than keeping the club in the Premier League. It was not his first instinct, but after listening to the supporters in the street his mind has been changed.
It is no romantic notion – there is a bronze statue dedicated to Bob Stokoe at the Stadium of Light but he never won a top-flight game as Sunderland manager. His place among the club’s immortals was assured by the 1973 FA Cup defeat of Leeds.
Poyet understands this and will make sure that his team make the most of an “incredible opportunity”.
He said: “People keep telling me in the street. I cannot believe it, but it’s true. The feeling of winning something is far beyond going down, spending two years in the championship.
“Why? You need to be here for 20 years and feel it like them, or not reach a final for 15 years, or not win one for more than 40. Only the people who have been here in the city supporting the club for so long really know. They have the feeling, not me. Me, I can say it but I can’t feel it. But I’ve been here for four months and I’ve got a chance now.”
Poyet fully understands the importance of retaining the club’s top-flight status, not least for the financial windfall that Premier League football brings year-after-year.
He says that from the moment he walked into the Academy of Light, at 11.45pm on October 7, he has focused on staying in the division but that winning a cup could completely transform the club for the better.
While it may not affect the bottom line it could be “very important” for the future: for ephemeral things like confidence, transforming the mentality of the club and also just raising the general morale of those involved with Sunderland. It is a message that he has heard loud and clear.
Poyet’s understanding is helped by the fact that he lives in Sunderland – and is one of the first Black Cats managers in recent years to have done that.
“You need to listen to (the fans) and that’s why it’s an incredible opportunity,” he said.
“I’m not stupid enough to think it’s not important for me. It is. It’s very important for me, but what it can bring with it, the club winning something, is very important in terms of the future, in terms of confidence for the rest of the league, in terms of the fans, the club, the players you’re looking to bring in next year – there are so many things that influence winning or losing. Staying in the Premier League or not.
“I know the responsibility and I accept it. What I like is to make people happy and there is no better way then by winning a final, I can tell you that.”
Having been convinced of the romantic potential of a cup win, Poyet (pictured below) is now urging his players to grasp a historic opportunity to turn themselves into Sunderland heroes in an instant. Poyet said: “I can tell you that when I got the job and I got to the Academy of Light at a quarter to midnight, I was not even thinking about that. Not even in a million years. I was only thinking about staying.
“That was the aim, the challenge and a massive challenge that is still there. A big, big challenge. Football puts you in this situation and you need to try and take it, for sure. You’re not going to let it go past, so we’ll see.”