Reports Of A Divided Sunderland Appear To Be Greatly Exaggerated

Richard Sellers

Does Gus Poyet's new commitment to Sunderland mean fans can finally commit to actual excitement again?

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There is no denying that it has been a difficult year for Sunderland fans. It is a year, you could say, that has been dominated by a single word, looming like a menacing spectre over the club at every turn - 'but'.

"It's great to have such an active summer, but have we signed too many?"; "encouraging opening day performance, but losing it has heaped the pressure on with the upcoming fixtures"; "like the look of Poyet but we may be in too sticky a situation to get out of"; "Wembley was brilliant, but we are bottom of the league again", and so on and so forth. It has been exhausting.

The most recent "but" has probably been the most menacing of all - "it looks like we finally have the real deal with Poyet, but is he going to stick around?". That question has been put to bed now, but for a spell it appeared the national press were going to town on reports of the Sunderland board room resembling a war zone.

It seemed that every night the Daily Mail in particular were predicting impending implosion at the Stadium of Light. Poor old Sami Mokbel appeared to be especially desperate for Poyet to leave, with one of his tall tales even being removed from the Daily Mail site in sheer shame at its wild inaccuracy. Imagine that for a moment... such unbridled rubbish that the Daily Mail - the Daily Mail - are ashamed of it...

Anyway, there were more credible people expressing worry too. George Caulkin, unquestionably the finest of the journalists charged with covering north east football to a national readership, expressed concern about Poyet's future, and frankly anyone who heard a Gus Poyet press conference for a while there in April would have struggled to feel entirely secure in his commitment to the Sunderland cause.

It's important that we don't rewrite history here. Yes, it's wonderfully welcome news that Poyet has signed a new contract and ended the immediate speculation on his future, but it was looking pretty iffy for a while there. During the darkest moments of last season, he appeared to be washing his hands of the club and the doom we all came to expect.

Even after the season finished, the speculation rumbled on. The whole world knew of the break clause in Poyet's previous contract that was activated on survival, and rumours grew that West Ham United would offer him a return to the capital had they decided to sack Sam Allardyce rather than just emasculate him instead by publicly undermining everything that he and his football stands for. When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed Tottenham Hotspur manager, it didn't take long for Poyet's name to crop up in connection with that vacancy either.

But what a difference a week makes.

The precise nature of the the relationship between Poyet and the Sporting Director Lee Congerton isn't really known. It may be a true bromance for all we know, but given we have learned what a control freak the Uruguayan is when it comes to his managerial career, I'd suggest not.

What we do know, however, is that it is at least amicable and appearing to be relatively efficient right now. The loss of Phil Bardsley, who the club hoped to keep, was brushed off in double quick time by snapping up Billy Jones to replace him, and the arrival of Jordi Gomez, an absolutely archetypal Poyet footballer, was confirmed the next day.

The question of who picked or pushed for those players has been rendered irrelevant by Poyet's decision to commit to a new contract, signalling his comfort with the club's system of player recruitment - whatever it may be - and that must come as a relief to us all. I'm sure there will be some who still assert that it is an uneasy alliance and nothing more at the moment, and it may very well be the case, but that's all a professional relationship needs to be.

Realistically, you feel the continuation and positive development of that crucial relationship may well rest upon next season starting considerably better than last. Roberto De Fanti's position and performance was put under immediate pressure by losing games and growing discontent than demanded a scapegoat. Will Congerton fare any better if history repeats itself? Probably not.

Now we are just slipping into speculation, though, which absolutely isn't the intention here so it's probably time to wrap this up. This isn't about what we don't know, it's about what we do know.

And what we do know right now is that recent reports of a divided Sunderland appear to be have been greatly exaggerated. Poyet is clearly happy with the club's plans and wants to be a part of them. That much is evident by the signature on his new contract.

Finally, fans can start looking forward with the possibility of wonderment (it's preseason, you're allowed) rather than feel held back by lingering spectre of worriment. "But" has made way for two far more healthy words in football - "what if".

What if we retain the form and swagger with which survival was won? What if Poyet can continue to actually develop players and get them passing a football properly? What if Sunderland actually get it right this time? Oh yes, what a difference a week makes.

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