As news broke on Tuesday afternoon that Gustavo Poyet would not be the man to replace Phil Parkinson in the dugout at the Stadium of Light, I have to admit I was hugely disappointed.
Poyet’s arrival at Sunderland in 2013 felt like the start of something new, with a clear identity and style of play that didn’t hark back to old-fashioned ideas of “get it in the mixer” or “Britishness” but instead embraced the high possession football that began in Spain, where Poyet started his European playing career, at the beginning of the last decade.
Of course Sunderland’s marriage with Poyet became an unhappy one, failure to secure vital loan players on permanent deals and the inability to replace those who left the club meant he was never able to repeat the heights reached in his first season at the club. At the end, his departure was inevitable, but he was the last manager to last a full season in the Premier League for Sunderland - apart from David Moyes, of course.
My longing for Poyet to return, something which I have felt ever since Sunderland first dropped out of the Premier League may be the rose-tinted longings of a Sunderland fan who remembers feeling so much pride at the team’s performance in the League Cup final that he wore a Sunderland top under his school shirt the following day, despite being surrounded by Newcastle fans.
However, this time it was about more than just nostalgia. This time the very project that Gus Poyet represented in 2013 seemed the idea fit for a club, hopefully, about to embark on a new journey, with new owners and a new sporting director but this time from the bottom in League One. The very division in which Poyet started his managerial career.
With Gus Poyet now out of the running to be the next Sunderland manager, I have stopped thinking with my heart and the reality of what is needed has become more clear.
Sunderland in League One are operating at the limit of the salary cap, meaning any new January signings must be either under 21 years of age, or replace players currently in the squad. Furthermore, twelve of Sunderland’s first team squad are out of contract and whilst many of those players only have part of their wages contributing to the salary cap, their replacements will not.
For these reasons, Sunderland must prioritise promotion this season above everything else. And whoever is chosen to try and achieve this will be doing so without much room to manoeuvre in the January transfer window. This is why I think Sunderland should look for a short term appointment, a manager to be given an 18-month contract with the simple task of getting the club back into English football’s second tier.
Banished from my thoughts are delusions of Gus Poyet transforming George Dobson into a regista as he did Lee Cattermole back in 2014, and in their place have come manager’s such as Paul Cook, whose League One winning Wigan side included a 19 goal-a-season Will Grigg and Max Power.
If Paul Cook is not a man to get the pulse racing, and I certainly have been critical of those who called for him to replace Parkinson before Poyet’s return was ruled out, more progressive names such as Danny Cowley could serve this short term role just as well. Although the former Lincoln brother’s Danny and Nicky Cowley will likely be after a project for their next club, and many Sunderland fans will view them as such, the chance to rebuild a reputation dented but not tarnished from their sacking by Huddersfield by winning promotion with League One’s biggest club is something that would be difficult to turn down.
The Cowley’s in particular could be a good fit, for a club looking to balance the contradictions of a very “League One” squad put together by a very “League One” manager with a want for a more modern style of football.
Gus Poyet won’t be the next manager of Sunderland, but maybe it wasn’t the right time for his return after all.