Sunderland’s players were sent for a team meal last night as Gustavo Poyet tries to learn more about the squad he has inherited.
Such gatherings took place under Martin O’Neill, but evidently have not since.
But new coach Poyet thinks they are important not only to team spirit, but also to accelerate his knowledge about the squad ahead of his first home game, Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby.
“It was my decision,” the Uruguayan explained. “I used to do it myself, organising with Wisey (Dennis Wise, during their time at Chelsea) and company and because I didn’t see it happening (at Sunderland), I did it.”
Poyet accepts team meals are generally best without him, but made an exception last night.
“The manager goes once,” he insisted. “After that they don’t want him there. I know. I’ve been a player, I didn’t want the manager there.
“I think it’s important (to be there last night). We need to spend time together, talk about things, whatever it is. Sometimes you know a player better when you know something about his life. Maybe someone is having a problem at home and we don’t know.
“I haven’t been in the middle of meetings saying, ‘How’s your wife, how’s your family?’ Slowly, you build up. Oh, and there are 14 new players.
“I think it should be regular but I will not be involved anymore after this. It will be up to the players.
“It is not about having a laugh too much. It is about getting together. I cannot ask the fans and the club to be together and us, the main one, not to be together. We need to be together.
“I said I would pick up the bill. I am lucky the club backed me up on this one. It is the staff that travel plus the players.” Poyet is rightly worried about the mental strength of his players. It is why he is considering handing injury-prone Wes Brown a first start of the season.
Saturday’s 4-0 defeat at Swansea City was a case in point. Sunderland matched their hosts for 57 minutes but as soon as the hosts scored, they caved in. It was similar in the previous game when the Black Cats outplayed Manchester United, only to capitulate once Adnan Januzaj equalised for the Red Devils.
“Mental attitude has been good, the problem is some reactions on the pitch when things don’t go right,” Poyet acknowledged.
“It is difficult to have that on the pitch, players have been down. The mental side is not the easiest thing to work on.
“We will see the passion of the players (at the Stadium of Light on Sunday) that is for sure and then you need quality and concentration and other things. But the passion will be there, if it is not things will change dramatically.
“Players should not need any more motivation. The British players need to make sure the new ones understand.
“We (the coaching staff) will do our bit as well, that side of the game I am not too worried about.
“If there is one game to win it is this one.
“The players were down after Saturday. The trip back was not enjoyable. On Monday we saw the faces and it wasn’t great. They show you they are not happy about it. We have to change that.”
Poyet suggested at the start of the week former England international and European Cup winner Brown could make a first competitive since January 2012 to add much-needed big-game experience.
The 34-year-old central defender remains in contention.
Poyet said: “He has a chance, he is closer, he has been better and trained all week and we have to wait and see how his body takes all the pressure because we have not given him much rest this week.
“It is depending on today and Saturday and then we will make a decision. He is very close, and we will see if he is close enough to play.”