4 July 2013

ALBION OBITUARIES: GUS POYET (2009-13)



This famous Gustavo Augusto Poyet Domínguez quote is just one of the many reasons the Uruguayan will go down in Albion history. I suppose for a club who still honour Leon Knight amongst its 'legends', it is really of no surprise. Gus Poyet, though, was the most ambitious Albion manager for at least a couple of generations - to the point where the club itself (the fans, staff, and, ultimately, the board) couldn't match his (probably unwarranted) level of ambition. Since the play-off failure it became obvious that Gus had been plotting his exit strategy for most of 2013, and the ensuing suspension - eventually leading to departure - meant GP left in somewhat acrimonious circumstances. But we, here at TSLR, will remember him fondly for the things he achieved in a rather relatively short space of time. You see, GP kept us up in his first season; won the third division title in his first full season; then presided over the club's highest league finish since 1991 the season before last. He then led the Albion to an incredible 24th finish in the entire country in what proved to be his final season - the highest league placing since the 1980s. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

And Gus achieved this remarkable record by making us play in a style more befitting to a top team, or a team with historical success (every club has a history and identity, #FFSMurray). We passed and moved, and finally all those years of watching a two-bit side evaporated into insignificance. Even the successful Micky Adams I era was a total disgrace to aesthetic passing pleasure. Gus - admittedly with the help of a brand spanking new, top flight stadium - presided over the most excessive period of (positive) change the Albion has ever seen. And, whatever issues we had with his media-savvy-ness at the culmination of his reign, you will never be able to take back the remarkable success he initiated and implemented at Albion.
The flair and swagger he brought to the whole club - top to bottom - from the moment he stepped into a Withers press conference is like nothing we have seen as a club since Brian Clough pitched up in the 1970s, and that didn't even have an ending as happy as Poyet's tenure did. My co-editor here at TSLR Towers clearly predicted the impact Gus would have when he used an image of GP close-up upon his Albion appointment. 'In Gus we Trust' ran the headline, and for three-and-a-half years we trusted. Almost unreservedly. It was a front page for TSLR that made us look like we knew what we were doing. It's not always the case: an issue the previous season had used a photo of Micky Adams as Mickey Mouse - our former managerial hero had been sacked on the morning of TSLR's publication (and he was far from a hero after that ill-fated return).
For a football fan more used to the Albion employing the Barry Lloyds, Mark McGhees and Jimmy Cases of this world as manager, Gus Poyet was a (lazy cliché alert) breath of fresh air. He will always be my absolute hero for the complete pleasure he allowed us to watch. There were bad moments too - dodgy substitutions, away day failure, and ineptitude against either a) rubbish teams or b) games against 'rivals’ the fans really wanted to win. But overall it was lovely, and almost made a 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough costing £200 bearable. I can’t really put into words how much Poyet's team gave me pleasure over the past few years. But his successful tenure made me try...

Throughout the early part of last season, there were a few murmurings of Gus Poyet discontent in our little section of the North Stand. But almost as soon as those question marks were placed on the Uruguayan's head, he answered them with style, panache, flair and - most importantly - a team with many of the then Gaffer's characteristics. In fact, his stubbornness was routinely displayed by our blue and white heroes (it tends not to be a bad characteristic, on the pitch). And, as it was, Gus was proved right: his seeming inability to find a Plan B was ignored as the moaners were faced with disarray thanks to a post-Christmas run of form that would take in a thoroughly fabulous win against our A23 adversaries, and lead to a match-up against them a few months later in what turned into a disappointingly painfully heart-breaking play-off campaign.
For a detailed look at each season of Poyet's time at Albion, you should really read the series, Thanks for the Memories, Gus by the awesome Ian Hine over on the Give Me Sport website. I couldn't be bothered to write anything so specific, I just wanted to tell the world (well, the 20-odd of you who read TSLR online) how much I will always love Gus Poyet.

There are certainly things we’ll miss with GP out of the equation...

Cockiness: For far too long, the Albion’s long suffering supporters have been simply happy to be in existence. This was never GP’s style, especially coupled with the move to Falmer. He was born a successful winner, a weird concept for anyone who got excited by a Jeff Minton penalty consolation at the Priestfield. Poyet and his team felt we should expect more from Albion - he brought a level of professionalism to the club we have never experienced before that was initially weird (luckily the backroom staff has helped bring down those expectations with the summer of discontent). Performance expectations levels certainly rose in his time on the south coast: a sort of ‘can we actually believe it?’ sort of cockiness emerged. Gus believed it and - if anything - our levels of cockiness never matched his. Falmer crowds would, at times, lose belief that we could win games as comfortably as Gus felt, and that must have irked the South American. That cockiness was new, exciting and welcomed at TSLR Towers. Until that cockiness for Albion turned into promotional activity for Gus Poyet.

Flair: It was in existence before the arrival of GP but he brought players to the club with not just flair alone. Tom Stewart’s flair demi-Gods of yesteryear (Maheta Molango, Lorenzo Pinamonte, et al) were flair alright, but Gus’ flair heroes were (and in many cases still are) quite good at football (an almost unflair characteristic). He brought in a Latino assistant manager, fixated on playing whilst too old, with socks rolled down before receiving a customary early bath (Tanno, we salute you too). GP’s love of Ashley Barnes brought out one of the flairest moments in Albion history when he tripped the referee at Bolton late last season. There was a massive increase in the number of arrests at the club (a flairly important element of flairdom, I’m sure you’ll agree). Injured foreigners feature heavily in any flaircessment and we can safely say that - along with his ridiculously good looks, beautiful naked torso and that run against Derby - Vicente is the Albion’s flairest player of all time. Whatever their actual relationship, GP brought the ex-International in as part of his flair revolution on the south coast. And long may it continue. With neither of them.
Glue: Francisco Sandaza, aka, the horse. Best TSLR joke since Colin Hawkins. Thanks Gus.

Interviews: In early 2010, TSLR Towers began work on a song using interview clips of GP to a dodgy breakbeat found in the archives of Garage Band, the music-making programme for non-musical fools like me. The recording unfortunately never made the charts but you can rest assured that the dulcet tones of 'ees complicated' repeatedly repeated over a very basic beat and a couple of cow bells is still great. 'Ees complicated' was legendary but so was his pronunciation of ‘first half’ (sounding like 'fir haff'), his inability to admit mistakes, his all-round cockiness, stubbornness (see Glenn Murray’s move to P****e) and rent-a-quote tendencies made GP quite amazing. For fans and (mainly) journalists. For the first time ever, Seagulls World was worth logging into. And actually, I recently re-watched that post-Palace defeat interview in which the whole world focussed on his ‘hit the roof’ comments. For four or so minutes, he was simply upset at losing - watch it, you’ll still love the man.

The Style of Football: GP brought proper football to the south coast for the first time ever. It was like Hungary (1950-54); Holland (1974-78); and almost every Brazil team throughout history. It was Rinus Michels' Total Football brought to life by an inglorious third division football team plying their trade in the middle of an inadequate athletics stadium. Every footballer could play football - and by that I mean passing it. To each other. There are many who claim that the Gus era is right up there with the 1976-83 glory days. This I am too young to confirm, but for the first time in 112 years, the Albion actually turned up and tried to play football (awful football cliché alert) 'the right way'. I mean, even Adam El-Abd learnt to pass like Willem van Hanegem. And Casper Ankergren (additionally flair for his love of Marlborough Lights) would routinely pretend to be an outfield player, and perform the role pretty well.
Penalty Shoot-Outs: As fanzine writers, the GP-era has been the best in our Albion-supporting lifetimes for the club’s performances when it comes to penalties. For individual, mid-game penalties, see the ‘things we won’t miss’ section below. For two shoot-outs against seriously lower-league opposition, Gus’ orchestra of flair played the concerts of their lives. Arise, Sir Christian Baz at Woking and the boys who did the business in Wrexham a year later.

That Song: Coined, we think, away at Peterborough - and continued the following weekend in the demolition of Charlton at the Valley during our canter to the Division 3 title - the echoes of 'We’re f***ing brilliant' will continue to dominate Falmer for generations to come. Even at a time in future when we’ll end up anything but brilliant. The song completed its conversion into Albion folklore when Sir Gus sung it at the open top bus tour. And it is by far the best song to sing when we're having an absolute on-pitch implosion.

But then there are some things that a Gus-less Albion will be better off without...

Substitutions: Even during our title-winning season, there was constant derision for what appeared to be bizarre mid-match substitutions. It was like GP never understood how the development of a football match can be affected in a positive way. If anything, GP was probably more suited to management in the 1950s. OK, so he wasn't alive then but he would have loved a football match in an era before substitutions were allowed.

Too big for the club: GP simply got the idea that he was bigger than the club. Nobody is bigger than the club. Not even Tony Bloom. But if it comes down to a choice between a manager who has flirted with other clubs by fluttering his eyelids on national television (including Reading, #FFSMurray, talking of clubs with no identity based on an industrial estate) and a director who basically stumped up £100m+ for the club you love, there is really no debate.
Interviews: So, yes, he was an entertaining interviewee but it would generally lead to some sort of drama. And that is a bit of drama we can now look forward to doing without. Gus never truly explained why he made mistakes or his previous thinking as to how they wouldn't be mistakes. But then, that was his cockiness I've already lauded so much. Oscar is dull apparently. Bring it on.

Penalties: Until we found Spanish Dave last season, we couldn't score mid-match penalties. During our title winning season we missed an unprecedented amount of spot-kicks. It was funny because we were good enough to win promotion as champions without scoring penalties. But, to be honest, patience did end up a little worn as time and time again we failed to find the net from 12 yards. Hilariously, it has changed the mindset of TSLRites in a completely opposite way to how Gus wanted to give us an identity: every penalty award these days is not celebrated, the subsequent idea of it creating a goal has completely subsided. At most, the award of a penalty - even since David Lopez has started scoring them - should be celebrated with a subtle fist pump, out of sight from your mates.

Signings: He may have rectified it all with Leonardo Ulloa joining last January but Gus made some odd signings down the years. I can’t moan about his signings without mentioning a few names - they should strike enough emotion in your own minds to prevent me having to write about them. Whilst the Argentinians (Baz and Battipiedi) were initially lauded for their depiction of flair, their on-field performances were ultimately disappointing. Fran Sandaza was only good because he looks like a horse and scored a couple of timely tap-ins. Chris Holroyd was another, and that Uruguayan dude on-loan from Stoke who got sent off in a shameful display at MK Don't's. There were others, largely forgettable others. Plus there was that decision to offload Glenn Murray - the event that caused the most condemnation of any in his tenure. And GP did make some great signings down the years.

Racism: Right, so he wasn't actually racist but he did back a player who had been, as a result of hailing from the same country with a bizarre excuse that Uruguayans would use that term if they were brothers. Bizarre. And an embarrassing time to be an Albion supporter to be honest.

It turns out that there are many more reasons to miss Sir Gus than not. Where GP features in the all-time Albion management list is still up for debate but it is safe to assume that he will be held in high regard for future generations. Anybody who grew up in Brighton in the 1990s (when Albionite comrades in replica shirts were rarer than a Joe Gatting goal) will know one thing for sure: the kids who learnt how to love the Albion under Gus are one of the luckiest generations of supporters ever. I know I was lucky enough to watch almost all of his managerial reign, and there’s a chance we’ll never have that much fun again. One thing is for certain, Oscar has a long Gustavo Augusto Poyet Domínguez-shaped shadow cast over his tenure.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

great stuff well written

Westpier said...

Excellent piece that reminded me of things forgotten and thus misinformed my opinion of the man. A great manager indeed.

Thank you.

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