Matt Oldfield

When Uruguayan midfielder Gustavo Poyet left Tottenham in 2004 after eight distinguished years in the Premier League, few expected to hear of him again on English shores. Even fewer expected him to return just two years later as former Chelsea team-mate Dennis Wise’s assistant manager at League Two side Swindon Town. After further stops as an assistant at Leeds United and Tottenham, Poyet became the manager of struggling League One side Brighton & Hove Albion in November 2009.

Few footballers have taken such strange and arduous routes into management, and for that, Poyet deserves all of the respect and admiration that he receives. Having started at the bottom, the former Real Zaragoza player is slowly but surely making his way to the top.

It only took three months for Championship side Leeds United to steal Poyet and Wise away, but the duo arguably put Swindon on the road to recovery, with the club earning promotion at the end of the season. Taking over at fallen giants Leeds proved a largely thankless task; after reaching the play-off finals the year before, The Whites were now struggling both on and off the pitch and facing relegation. Despite experienced loan signings, Wise was unable to reverse the team’s fortunes, but Poyet’s blend of enthusiasm, talent and charm quickly made him a fan favourite.

A ten-point penalty for entering administration finally condemned Leeds United to the third tier of English football for the first time in the club’s 90 year history. Wise and Poyet were both retained by chairman Ken Bates and despite a further 15-point reduction for liquidation, the duo quickly guided Leeds into the League One play-off spots.

However, in October 2007 Poyet was on the move again, this time returning to Tottenham as Spaniard Juande Ramos’ assistant manager. A bi-lingual assistant was crucial for the former Sevilla coach and the Uruguayan fitted the bill perfectly, having also already won over the Tottenham fans as a player. With Ramos and Poyet in charge, Tottenham won the 2008 Carling Cup, unexpectedly beating rivals Chelsea in the final. However, a mid-table league finish, followed by the worst start to a season in the club’s history, saw Ramos and Poyet replaced by Harry Redknapp in October 2008. In typically humble and generous fashion, the Uruguayan told the press a month later, ‘Being honest and looking at the results, it was the right decision to sack Juande and me…Full credit to Harry’.

Poyet’s next move was into the commentary box for ESPN’s Spanish league games, where his cheerful face and good humour were of course well-received. However, the former Chelsea man was seemingly only biding his time, waiting for a management opportunity, while completing his UEFA Pro License course.

The opportunity Poyet was awaiting arose in November 2009 at struggling League One side Brighton & Hove Albion. When Steve Coppell rejected the job, the Seagulls chose to take a gamble on the relatively inexperienced 41-year-old Uruguayan. It was Poyet’s first managerial role, but his work as assistant at Leeds and Tottenham had earned him a reputation as one of the UK’s most promising young coaches. Poyet appointed former Tottenham team-mate Mauricio Taricco as his assistant and approached the challenge with trade-mark confidence; ‘I never hid as a player or as an assistant manager, so I won’t be hiding on Sunday [first match at Southampton]. We will go there with some good training under our belts and we will go there to win the game."

It has been a strict learning curve for the Uruguayan, but he seems to be getting it right. Re-building a club with limited resources is no easy job and it has, and will, take time. The defensive frailty present on Poyet’s arrival has been worked on but having edged their way clear of the relegation zone, Brighton have now slipped back into a tightly-packed survival scrap. However, the recent 1-1 draw with league leaders Leeds United at Elland Road is evidence the Seagulls are showing plenty of fight. Brighton have also had a good cup season, reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup, where Poyet’s side lost 3-2 in a close game away at Premier League side Aston Villa. The signs are good for the future but the former Chelsea and Tottenham player knows that the current relegation fight is the priority.
Recently rumours of Poyet’s desire to manage the Under-20 Uruguay team on a part-time basis have unsettled fans and players, but the 41-year-old has pledged his commitment to the South Coast club, at least for now. ‘I am flattered to be linked to the job, but I have signed a contract here until the end of the next season," he told the press. ‘At the very least I will honour that but I hope to be here much, much longer. This is an ambitious club which is moving in the right direction…for now I have a job to do here at Brighton and my aim is to achieve success here.’

Poyet may have a reputation as one of English football’s most likeable personalities, but as a manager he has firm expectations; ‘It’s true I get on well with everyone but I don’t accept people who don’t have respect. I give everything to the players to help them be good professionals. But if they fail me, I’m hard. And when I say I’m bad, I can be one of the worst! Even if I smile all of the time.’

The Uruguayan seems to be mastering the difficult boss/buddy balance and by starting in the lower leagues like former England star Paul Ince and ex-Chelsea team-mate Roberto Di Matteo, he is gaining invaluable managerial experience. A few more years in the football league and Poyet should be ready for the big-time. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.


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