During the middle of last week, with a fresh set of problems plonked in his in-tray by defeat to West Ham and the brewing Ji Dong-Won saga, Gus Poyet satin front of his computer and contemplated the unthinkable.
Meticulous to a tee, Poyet’s pre-season plan is moving from the construction phase to conclusion.
He has worked out what the squad will do, when they will do it and has set aside dates for the friendly games being negotiated.
It is typical of Poyet, who is taking a wide-ranging approach to his red-and-white revolution. He wants the Academy to play the same way as the senior side and is trying to influence every aspect of the club he can – an approach which has left him struggling to even have a day off.
So this is not a man who cuts corners. As of yet, though, it is still proceeding on the basis Sunderland will be a Premier League team.
Poyet took one look at the Football League’s fixture schedule for next season and couldn’t quite bring himself to include it in his plans.
He said: “On Thursday I was sat in front of my computer (looking at the Championship fixtures) and I said ‘no, next week” I swear, let’s give it one more week. I think it would be as if we were accepting it and I don’t want to accept it, but I need to be professional. It’s the worst part of the situation we are in.”
It has been that kind of season for Poyet: long hours in his training ground office punctuated by occasions on which he has almost had to pinch himself at the surrealism of the situation he’s in. We all know about the situations whch have reached the public domain – the latest of which was the administrative error which robbed Poyet of the opportunity to play Ji Dong-Won and created uncertainty surrounding Sunderland’s punishment in December.
The Black Cats boss suggests there are other things to consider.
He added: “I hope you understand what I’m going to say because it’s the way I feel. I hate excuses, but I also have a lot of them. I have a list. If I gave you everything that happened, mamma mia I would have excuses!”
Asked to clarify one of the excuses not in the public domain, Poyet smiled. “No. I cannot say. I’m not allowed to say.”
Taken to an illogical conclusion, this might create a measure of uncertainty about Poyet’s position.
Having mentioned after the West Ham game he would walk away from the job if the players stopped responding to him, it is clear the Sunderland boss is dealing in high stakes as he heads towards the end of the season. He says at the moment his commitment to the job is unquestionable, but he admits relegation would take a heavy toll on him – personally and professionally.
Poyet said: “If we play the way we played this week then I won’t go, but that’s what I say.
“I can’t say what the gaffer is going to do. That is another situation. Me? I am always committed and I don’t hide away from responsibility. If we go down I am going to be responsible.
“I am not going to say how much, but I will take my responsibility naturally. I will hate it.
“I will be devastated and it will probably be one of the worst summer holidays of my life, but that’s part of the job and the challenge. I will be here if they let me.”
Poyet does not want to deal in excuses and his warning shot on Monday night about the commitment of his players was intended to blow away any doubts about the squad he has inherited.
Although he didn’t sign many of them – and will probably sell a few of them in the close season – he does not shirk away from the reality of the situation.
This is his team, he needs to motivate it and if he doesn’t, he will take the blame for that. Poyet added: “It is a problem if it becomes personal, because if my team on the pitch doesn’t try the best and by the best I am not talking about doubt.
“Then I need to be honest and ask why I am here. If I cannot even make a team fight aganst relegation, then you can think about it. If we do on Monday what we did against Liverpool then we have a great chance so let’s not give me another excuse.”
Having been lauded for reviving Sunderland’s moribund campaign when he was appointed in the autumn, Poyet has found himself battling against a tide of criticism following controversial selection calls. He confirmed Adam Johnson – a substitute on Monday – will play at Tottenham but he knows there may be other unpopular calls he must make between now and May.
He said: “I’m a very good professional and when anybody criticises me professionally I take it. It’s part of my job and I don’t get upset with anyone. I’m not going to say I like it, I’m not that stupid. I don’t like it but I accept it, because you cannot make everyone happy and think the way you think. It happens as a football player as well – you cannot be a good player for 40,000 people week and in week out.”