Joie de vivre has replaced fear as the order of the day at Sunderland.
But while Gustavo Poyet has been trying to put a smile back on his player’s faces since taking over as their new coach, they are yet to reciprocate.
After the tyrannical rule of Paolo Di Canio his replacement has been encouraging the Black Cats to do what footballers love doing most – play football. Gone are the orders not to even make eye contact with support staff. In training fitness drills have largely been replaced by ball-work. Players are being encouraged to express themselves.
Last night Poyet even took his squad out for a meal. Imagine that happening under Di Canio? Good luck to anyone ordering ketchup.
If Poyet has been at pains to make life more pleasurable for his players, they have not been able to repay him yet.
Sunderland’s second-half performance at Swansea City, Poyet’s first game in charge, was a 4-0 capitulation. One newspaper – harshly perhaps – called it “gutless”.
It – the performance, not an assessment he had no interest in – ate away at the 45-year-old at first but now the smile is back on his face, albeit a little forced. No wonder he is resigned to going bald.
“I like to have a good life,” Poyet explains. “I want to enjoy this job. I don’t want to have a heart attack or lose my hair.
“The longer this goes I will probably go bald, because of the way I am. I want to be able to enjoy Sunday night with my family, have a nice meal and talk about how good it was – a goal, or the action, or whatever.”
Poyet spoke yesterday about the misery etched on his players’ faces as they flew home from Swansea. It had not gone by Monday.
He was no more cheery. The difference is, once he saw his men at the Stadium of Light this week, he felt obliged not to let on.
“You cannot relax too much,” he says of his post-Swansea mood. “You keep thinking. You watch the game again. You make some notes – things we should have done, things we should not do again.
“Then I watched (Sunday’s opponents) Newcastle. You start thinking about possibilities. The first couple of days is not nice. It’s not about being strong. The feeling was not very nice.
“But you are in charge and you have to make sure you are leading by example. You have to be up for it on Monday morning. You are making sure everybody is right and you are doing your job.
“You need to control the feelings. You cannot be too high or too low.”
He might be putting a brave face on things, but Poyet is not too proud to admit he needs help in Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby – on the field and in the stands.
“On paper we have plenty of leaders,” comments the Uruguayan, slightly betraying those words with his eagerness to rush Wes Brown back. “We need to see it on the pitch. We have to make sure we use those leaders.
“There are different types of leaders. It is very easy to be strong and shout and show you care but it is a football game and you need to play football. The leaders need to be the right ones in the right way.
“What a perfect game to see those leaders.”
Of Brown he says: “If you need experience, intelligence and a player who has played at the highest level and the biggest games, he is the one.
“The one thing you need is players with strong mentally and I couldn’t think there could be a better player than him but we need him to last 90 minutes.”
The same issue, for different reasons, is a concern with another leader. Lee Cattermole could never be accused of lacking the passion required when Sunderland meet Newcastle United, but sometimes it can be his undoing.
“There is a line but it is very difficult to talk to each player about where you can go with passion and commitment and when you can’t go over that line,” Poyet concedes.
“I’ve played in 100 games when manager says we need 11 at the end and it has not happened.”
Poyet is reluctant to ask anything of supporters who only seem interested in this weekend’s game, believing it should be the other way around. But with one point from the first eight Premier League matches, his side needs all the inspiration it can get.
“The only thing I ask of the supporters is please help us now,” he pleads. “Then I will give you what you deserve, but in this moment in time, I cannot promise you many things because it is very difficult to predict. Now I need help.
“I know they are going to be there in this game to the end, to the last second.
“Long term it is me (the responsibility lies with), making sure we give something back, and it needs to be big – good football, victories, something important to be proud of.
“In town they keep asking me to win this game, apparently there is nothing after, it is the only game that matters.
“We cannot keep analysing and trying to blame everyone, we need to sort it out and Sunday would be the perfect start.
“It is the game to win and everything is set up to win it. We are focussed completely on winning.”