Gus Poyet prepares to launch himself as a top flight manager at Sunderland, though the popular Uruguayan steps into an unenviable situation.
The Stadium of Light dressing room contains several players, 14 in fact signed by fiery predecessor Paolo Di Canio, still getting to know one another.
For the first three months of his Black Cats reign at least, Poyet must work with what he has inherited. Some would call it a mess. There is precious little Premier League experience in the squad whatever your take on Sunderland.
Did that make taking the job on a poisoned chalice? Di Canio’s revolution reportedly left the Wearside hotseat one that other coaches were reluctant to consider.
From the hierarchy there was an admission that their gamble, which worked in the short-term, had not paid off. Chairman Elis Short looks to Poyet for much needed stability. His tenure at Brighton & Hove Albion amounted to longer than any Black Cats boss has managed since the days of Peter Reid.
The Seagulls played attractive football on their rise from flirtation with the League One relegation zone to the Championship playoffs. Sunderland supporters will be hoping that Poyet brings a similar style with him to Wearside.
Short was quick to point out his new head coach’s “track record” and “experience” in a club statement. Poyet is, however, no stranger to controversy as his three-and-a-half-year reign at Brighton ended this summer in acrimony when he was sacked for gross misconduct.
The similarities don’t end there either. Poyet, like Di Canio before him, is unproven as a coach at this high level after a fine playing career. Differences lie in the approach. Poyet is unlikely to sling mud at the Black Cats performance or pick on individuals after every game. Player power will not be needed to solve differences now.
Looking at his first six games, and if you discount a League Cup clash with high-flyier Southampton, Poyet can see winnable games before the tough festive schedule. Four are away matches, but pit Sunderland against sides that have blown hot and cold so far.
Swansea, struggling to juggle European commitments, are first on the agenda before the small matter of the Tyne-Wear derby at home to Newcastle United. A repeat feat of Di Canio’s famous win over the Black Cats’ big rivals would be a welcome tonic.
Trips to Stoke City, Hull City and Aston Villa with a home game against Manchester City follow. Sunderland have a particularly good recent record against Manuel Pellegrini’s team. Mackems could easily see momentum build for their team after a shaky start.
If Poyet is to revive Black Cats fortunes then he must do it without square pegs in round holes. For too long midfielders Craig Gardner and Jack Colback have had to masquerade as full-backs. Natural options Phil Bardsley, a player frozen out by Di Canio, and Andrea Dossena, when fit, must get runs in the XI.
Stephen Fletcher’s return from another injury layoff will also lift Sunderland. Jozy Altidore remains a work in progress as goals are still not coming for the American in England, despite a prolific spell with AZ Alkmaar since his last Premier League tilt with Hull.
Wide players Emanuele Giaccherini and Adam Johnson bucked a fashionable trend by actually playing down their stronger sides in the home defeat by Manchester United. No longer having to cut inside they proved a much more potent force. Here’s hoping Poyet took notes.
Since Di Canio’s departure Sunderland do seem to have recaptured some spirit, even if caretaker Kevin Ball failed to pick up any points. The potential is there for Poyet to have a good stab at survival.
Only time will tell whether he is given money to strengthen in January after what many, including investors, will see as wasteful spending from Di Canio this past summer. If Poyet can hit the ground running then the Black Cats have every chance of preserving their status.