On Tuesday night Gus Poyet found himself in a dark place. He had spent days doting over and nurturing a plan he thought would work, only to see that plan go up in smoke mere minutes into it being applied. He watched this through spread fingers for 90 minutes before being led by his colleagues into a sweaty room, where he sat at a table, journalists and cameras pointing in his face, demanding answers. It's the life of a football manager. An extremely difficult, cruel, and unforgiving life, but nevertheless a life which Gus Poyet has accepted for himself.
His post-match comments came from a very malevolent and spiteful corner of his soul, one which has been allowed to grow by the very nature of his profession and the pressures which come with it.
"That is what people want in the second half. That is what they want, and they have been asking for, for a while, so maybe they need to be a little bit more proud of the team. Everybody wanted the players to play the ball forward - to let it bounce and get corners. It was more important to get a corner than make a pass."
Poyet suggests that the fans who scream for the ball to be played up the pitch have finally got their wish, and their solution is far worse than his. In essence, it is our fault we lost. He's telling supporters that he knows what he's talking about, and when we do it our way, we're terrible, we lose. Poyet knows best. He is right and we are wrong. This is what he meant to say and I have no doubt in that moment that he meant it. In that moment, he hated the fans. Live on camera, in front of a room of the North East's football press, Gus Poyet suffered a moment of weakness and allowed the hatred to take over, and he entered his dark place.
In order to understand why he said what he did, and why he felt that way, you must first appreciate where the darkness comes from. First of all, who are ‘they' who got what they wanted? Are they the full 40,000 fans who went to the game? Are they the ones who booed the team off the pitch both at half time and full time? Or are they someone different? Perhaps a group of people he invented inside his head in that desperate moment, in order for him to deflect blame. A vicious group consisting entirely of the pissed bloke who approaches him in a restaurant and tells him to play more direct football, an event he probably laughs off on a regular basis, but one which he thinks about every so often, and has grown to resent. In a single moment of weakness that man multiplies by 40,000 and all of a sudden, inside Poyet's head, none of us are behind him, none of us want him.
It's the weird mannerism your partner has; when you're having a lovely night, it's cute and quirky, but when things aren't so lovely you just want to tell them how stupid they look. It's an annoyance which manifests itself inside your mind and is left to fester over time. Every so often it rises to the surface and you immediately regret letting it go that far, but it's still there, growing in power, waiting for next time. The angry fan is that to Poyet. It must be annoying after all, being told how to do your job by thousands of people in every direction.
Poyet must also take massive issue with this notion that he doesn't want to win games. It's a ludicrous suggestion, as that's all anyone in football has ever wanted. Fans have grown frustrated with the Poyet ‘brand' of football and its lack of success. The problem of course lies with the identity of this brand. It is by no means the brand that Poyet wants associated with his name, merely a Sunderland AFC interpretation of which, and a poor one at that. Poyet has instilled his philosophy into a group of professionals who do not necessarily possess the capability to play, or even think that way, and the brand will only ever be as good as the understanding between the players and the manager. This by no means exempts Poyet from culpability, but offers some explanation as to why he is as frustrated as he is. The fans think that this is what Gus Poyet is all about, when in fact it couldn't be further from the truth. He must be resentful of that.
This outburst isn't an isolated incident of course. When results are less desirable, Poyet will often explain that this is not the team he wants, but rather the team he has ended up with. Jordi Gomez was jeered from the start against QPR, but Gus didn't mention him after the match, because in truth, he can't say anything. I'm sure Poyet consented to Gomez signing, he's not a useless player; he has scored goals for us after all, but do you really think that Poyet will have wanted a free transfer from a Championship club, not only in his starting XI, but playing in an absolutely vital position in his system? Of course not. The pot is only so large, and with funds dedicated to other areas of the pitch, Gomez was the right man in the circumstances, albeit those circumstances not being desirable for a Premier League manager who will be judged stringently on every signing, whether originated by him or not. It's the exact situation Gus finds himself in when Gomez is booed. He has to be resentful of that as well.
Let's be logical for a second, it's not Gus Poyet's fault that we're losing football matches. He is the face of SAFC, but is merely one page in an annual of mistakes, bad decisions and naivety. He can be allotted a portion of the blame, but not the full blame. He is however, directly responsible for our tactics and making sure that the eleven men he chooses to play are not only capable of winning, but also winning the way he wants them to win. Regardless of the squad's quality, that will always be his responsibility and no-one will interfere with that. Suggesting that he makes tactical decisions to spite fans not only portrays him as bitter and childish, but in essence undermines the very little power he claims to have at the football club. Taking on the fans is a battle that no manager will ever win and Poyet was stupid to allow himself to get sucked into that. He's better than that and we all know it. A moment of darkness, of weakness and of stupidity.
The thing which fans first loved about Gus Poyet was his honesty, and I think to an extent he needs to reassess why he says the things he does. Is he still being honest, or is it all for the cameras? When you're in the spotlight as often as he is, I imagine it can become very easy to say things which you think might be shown on Sky Sports News, rather than giving an accurate and transparent insight into your true thoughts on the game. The side Poyet picked against QPR was the same which beat Burnley at home; he picked a winning side. That is sound logic, he found a formula which he thought worked, and he stuck stuck with it. There's nothing wrong with that. If he had just admitted that he thought it would work for that reason, but unfortunately on this occasion he got it wrong, then I don't think anyone would have taken any sort of issue with the team selection. Mistakes can always be eradicated and forgiven, but the comments he made were damaging both to his reputation amongst Sunderland fans and his colleagues.
Gus Poyet's comments were in no shape or form justified or justifiable; he is 100% wrong and he really let himself down saying what he did. On this occasion however, I think fans should forgive him and put it down to growing pains. He is still a very good manager and you can tell by the way he speaks about his long term vision at this football club that he still cares. This football team is his project, one which he dedicates his life to, and every so often he will become volatile when he sees its progress disrupted. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. He must never attack the fans again however, as without us, he would be no-one and nothing. The next time he enters his dark place, I hope he remembers that.