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"REALISM!", Gus Preaches To The Converters

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Poyet wants to ensure Sunderland fans get real with their expectations for the new season. It's almost as if he doesn't know us at all sometimes, the daft lovable sod.

Richard Sellers

If there is one thing you can always rely upon Sunderland fans for, it's a bone-chillingly, ball-achingly, soul-sapping dose of realism. In fact, it's actually very hard to enjoy anything as a Sunderland fan, such are the amounts of fans on social media and the like just queuing up to make sure you know just how miserable things could and probably will be before you know it.

Last season for example, after beating Newcastle at home (how wonderful that we genuinely have to specify which derby victory we are talking about), you couldn't really enjoy it for warnings that, nice as it was, it was probably too little too late in the relegation scrap. It was November.

It's not necessarily a bad thing. Far from it. Yeah, it can be annoying at times, but these people provide a cruel yet crucial service, so don't deride them. If not for them, how long before we start waffling on about being a 'special club' and staging mock funeral services outside the ground when we get a kit we don't like or something? It's a slippery slope, and the miseries protect us from it.

It's something that Gus Poyet clearly embraces too.

Anyone who knows anything about the Uruguayan knows that he is a fiercely ambitious coach. There is no question that he sees himself as headed for one of the elite clubs in world football. That's fine. The days of coaches building footballing dynasties from the ground up like Brian Clough, Bill Shankly and Don Revie are long gone. I think we all accept that.

But Poyet isn't getting ahead of himself. He isn't stoking the flames of expectation and romanticising us with talk of magic carpet rides and the like. In fact, as the Premier League season readies for kick off, there is only one word on Poyet's mind:

I think we need to be realistic, and I'd like everyone to understand that word - 'realistic'.

If someone would like to hear a lie, I can say one: Yeah, we're looking to get into Europe next year...

It looks fantastic, it sounds great, but it's not true.

So the idea here is, first, don't suffer, as we have in the last couple of years. Second is try and play the kind of football that will make us better slowly, consistently. No up and downs like last year. And from then on, keep improving.

Then, when we are in a position to attack a certain position in the league, I'll let you know.

Expectation management is a vital skill in the armoury of any manager, coach, whatever, these days, but you can't help but feel that Poyet is preaching to the converted a little. In fact, it almost feels like he is preaching to the very people who converted him to this way of thinking in the first place.

I mean, let's face it - Poyet is a bit of a dreamer. Yes, he can moan with the best of them, as we saw at White Hart Lane last season when he seemed to be throwing in the towel in the relegation scrap whilst trying to wash his hands of responsibility for it.

Beneath it all, though, he is still a dreamer.

He is obsessed with an almost idyllic brand of football for one thing, and his relentless refusal to give up the ghost on the Fabio Borini chase despite it dragging on for weeks without resolution is demonstrative of a stunningly resolute commitment to optimism.

It's actually one of his finest qualities as a coach. He has that unteachable boundless infectious energy that just radiates from him and touches every corner of the club. It's a huge asset. Just look at what happened to Martin O'Neill when he lost it.

So you wonder whether it's Sunderland fans that he is trying to convince to keep their feet on the ground or himself, really. I suspect the latter personally. Trying to force feed Sunderland supporters cold realism is like trying to force feed a Frenchman pretension - wholly unnecessary.

Still, I think that Poyet has neatly hit upon the right message here. Last season, Sunderland took making fans suffer to a whole new level, an almost incalculably precise level in fact.

I think that what is telling is that it seems to have been independently recognised as a watershed season by just about everyone. Poyet describes as surviving it as a miracle, and you don't tend to get two of those. Ellis Short seems to have relaxed the purse-strings a little in a bid to ensure it doesn't happen again. And the fans... well, our expectations for the new season seem to have been reduced to simply not making us want to rake out our eyeballs with a fondue stick every weekend.

Realism? We are way ahead of you here Gus...