How Much Is On Gus?

Ian Walton

Gus Poyet says that he will take his share of responsibility if Sunderland go down. We continue our inquest by asking just how big a share that should be.

Cast your minds back if you will, if you dare, to February 1st. As Jack Colback rifled in the third at St James' Park, Sunderland were headed for midtable and also had a cup final to look forward to. It feels like another lifetime.

There is this popular belief out there that Sunderland's summer business landed us in this mess. To quote one prominent local journalist, that what we are seeing is the completion of the club's "ruination at the hands of Roberto De Fanti and Paolo Di Canio". There is no shortage of responsibility to go around, admittedly.

But I think what is important to remember is that the squad they built, the one with Jozy Altidore leading the line, Fabio Borini a constant threat coming in from the flank and Ki Sung-Yueng a midfield metronome, though a very long way from perfect, was one which had climbed into twelfth position in the Premier League, reached Wembley, and looked good value for both at that time.

It was a team that was growing and finding some stability. It was a team that looked perfectly capable of beating the drop. It was a team you were then expecting to beat the drop.

So what on earth has happened since?

I wish I knew, really. I mean I wish I really knew. The facts are quite clear. Gus Poyet bought badly in January - perhaps not necessarily bad players but players ill-suited to the situation - and then started doing some very odd things with his selections and treatment of players.

That, we know. What we don't know is why. I am sure the club will have a messy inquest this summer and arrive at their own conclusions, but just what made Poyet, so stoic and single-mindedly dedicated to his system and philosophy up until recently, start rolling the dice on a team that was just starting to perform?

What made him sign a striker, something that was clearly a key priority for January, that he later admitted he knew wouldn't be able to contribute until next season? What made him suddenly start discounting and banishing Jozy Altidore in favour or Connor Wickham? Granted, the American has struggled to find the net, but Sunderland were performing far better with him in it than without him.

What made Santiago Vergini a better short-term option than Mobido Diakite, who is currently impressing at Champions League chasing Fiorentina? What has Emanuele Giaccherini done to be, like Altidore, almost entirely banished? What had Colback done wrong to suddenly find himself a bit-part player? What had Adam Johnson, a player in the form of his life, done to deserve a spell on the bench?

Somewhere along the line, it looks like the meritocracy has been lost and it started to be all about Poyet and his ego. The effect on the mentality on the dressing room, especially when it's infused with so many natural cowards anyway, surely can't be one conducive to a fight.

Now, I'm not saying that I no longer believe Poyet is the right man for Sunderland. I think that sometimes we are too eager to define a manager by his mistakes rather than his possibilities. All managers make mistakes. Another change of manager is the last thing we need here. Just because he hasn't handled someone else's group of players well, it doesn't mean he can't perform well with his own group, and being part of a problem doesn't mean you can't be part of the solution.

Gareth Barker argues that Poyet's tinkering was a result of desperation at the mental frailties of the squad he inherited. In many ways, I agree. I have a long list of people I'd like to ask questions of here and the players sit right at the top of it.

Poyet was unquestionably dealt a tough hand, but I also think he's played it badly. He had a 16, a nice safe 16 that gave him a fighting chance. Instead of sticking, he twisted, and now looks totally bust.

You can't look at Sunderland's decline and say it's any one person's fault. Writing Poyet off now would be an act of short-term anger and it's tough to see how it could be anything but detrimental to the long-term challenges ahead. But that he has been as culpable as anyone else for the position we find ourselves in is almost the elephant in the room here.

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