Gustavo Poyet was nine years old when he learnt what local rivalry in football was all about. It is why he has told his Sunderland players they “cannot lose” to Newcastle United tomorrow.
The Black Cats have only avoided defeat in three of ten games this season – a Premier League draw at Southampton and two League Cup victories over lower-league opposition. Poyet is not prepared to contemplate defeat in the Wear-Tyne derby.
It is an attitude picked up from his father as a Uruguayan schoolboy.
“It is all about this game,” said the Sunderland coach, who will be taking charge of his first game at the Stadium of Light. “I understand that because when I was nine I went to Argentina in a football exchange and my father said to me, ‘Here, we do not lose against Argentina.’ I was nine. Lucky I did not lose! I would have needed to go and sleep at my uncles!”
Poyet played in the 2001 North London derby at White Hart Lane. Arsenal’s Sol Campbell made his first appearance against Poyet’s Tottenham Hotspur that day, having moved between the rivals on a free transfer. But it was at international level where Poyet played in his most intense “derby”.
“Sol Campbell coming back to White Hart Lane for the first time was a really unique situation,” he recalled. “But of course it’s only fans, not cities. Here it’s not only the fans, it’s the cities.
“I played in the Copa America Final between two countries, Brazil and Uruguay (in 1995), and there is none bigger than that.
“I was on the pitch. You cannot
lose. I don’t how to explain it. It is not acceptable. There is something there when you are playing for your country you can feel. It is not just involving you as a footballer but your family, your friends, they need to go to work the next day.
“If you don’t win, the rest will make sure they let them know they are not happy about you.
“When it is so big, (and) you win, it is incredible. You can’t imagine how many people you have made happy. Everywhere in the country celebrated like we were world champions and we had ‘only’ won the Copa America. Win like that, and I’m sure it will be the same on Sunday, and they (Sunderland’s supporters) will forget about everything. There are no health problems, no financial problems, nothing. Everything goes.
“I want them to have that feeling on Sunday night.”
Poyet, then, will not fall into the trap some of his predecessors did of trying to argue that matches between Sunderland and Newcastle were just like any other. Going too far the other way – such as when Steve Bruce banned his players from talking about the derby in the build-up – can create a climate of fear. Poyet’s approach has been to tell his players to enjoy the rivalry.
“It (a derby) is different,” he commented. “In terms of training, concentration, preparation and the travelling and hotel, that is the same, but it is a derby. You feel it in the streets.
“I am looking forward to it. The players don’t realise how lucky they are. How many people would pay millions to be on the pitch?”
On-loan midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung is added to the squad which lost to his parent club, Swansea City. A first competitive appearance since January 2012 will also be considered for Wes Brown.