False Nine’s Tom Straker on the importance of patience in football and why sticking with Gus Poyet is the way forwards for Brighton…
Conventional wisdom is hard to come by in the divergent world of football opinions. If there’s one thing that fans of all spots and stripes generally agree on, though, it’s that managers are, too often, dispatched hastily. Loyalty, continuity and patience will – so this wisdom dictates – result in Ferguson-like success.
Take, for instance, the reaction to the recent dismissal of Chelsea sweetheart Roberto Di Matteo. Abramovich’s hare-brained decision-making inspired pantomime-like clamour from the Chelsea faithful – and the remaining 90% of their fans – when the valiant Italian conceded his job to big, bad Rafa Benitez, the riotously unpopular fact-crunching foe from yesteryear. Despite weaving the richest thread into the tapestry of Chelsea’s illustrious history, and injecting a welcome dose of likeability and humility along the way, Di Matteo was tossed aside like the toy of a bored, bratty child. The list of rashly banished managers is endless, but it is encouraging to see that, amidst the madness, sense can rear its beautiful head. The success of Di Matteo’s old colleague, Brighton manager Gus Poyet, represents the fruits available at the other, more sensible end of the spectrum.
Managerial success is largely based on three ingredients: patience, principle and time, which managers are too often denied. Grant a manager these, and you’ve granted him the tools to craft his own team; very few sides in English football reflect their manager’s philosophy more acutely than the current Brighton line-up. The Uruguayan remarked that it was his ‘dream’ to emulate Arsene Wenger and plan for the long haul, and the similarities are obvious.
The Poyet project has revolutionised a dour Brighton squad– infusing flair, patience and flexibility into a formerly bland caricature of lower league football. Although some fans were initially left aghast at the transformation from bomber jacket rigidity to snood-clad metrosexual panache– much like a Glaswegian builder discovering his son has traded real ale for tofu or Ricky Hatton for Virginia Woolf– Brighton fans have never had it so good. One-dimensional hoof-merchants have been replaced by hawk-eyed technicians; limited lower-league grunts with La Liga veterans; Bas Savages with Vicentes. Sure, the deep pockets of the new Chairman – poker-playing football philanthropist Tony Bloom – have helped, but Poyet’s impact on the club has extended far beyond astute investments with the bigger budget.
Players present under previous regimes have adapted their game to suit Poyet’s philosophy, with excellent results. Adam El-Abd, a player with a once notoriously rudimentary technique, has kept up with the side’s technical demands and has grown into the top Championship defender he never seemed destined to be, earning international caps for Egypt in the process. Sure, some players were exposed and were left for the vultures—Adam Virgo blended in about as seamlessly as Richard Nixon at a reggae festival—but the team evolved, as did results.
The success was startling: cruising to the League One title with four games to spare, an encouraging top-half finish in Albion’s return from Championship exile, a League One Manager of the Year award and a Football League Award for Outstanding Managerial Achievement. Few managers can claim to have such ownership of their sides, and those who can are invariably successful.
It may be surprising, then, to learn that Poyet has his detractors at the Amex, with pockets of fans droning the tired maxim, ‘he’s taken us as far as he can’. It is, of course, rare that a side is without any problems, but managers with a proven pedigree in fixing leaky holes should be given to the time to do so. Record signing Craig Mackail-Smith may, too often, huff and puff and leave condensation on the house’s window, and Ashley Barnes’ finishing boots appear to have been replaced by a hefty pair of clogs, but if there’s one lesson to be learned from the Poyet years, it’s that patience is indeed a virtue.
Defensive frailties, goalkeeping woes and an inability to foster chances—issues that have incurred disproportionate wrath throughout the embryonic Amex era—have been resolved. There is no reason to believe that Poyet’s failure to cement his side’s place in the top-six this season—a minimum requirement to some fans that is laughable to others—will be a protracted problem.
Patience, direction and principle have worked at the Amex so far, and will continue to. Fans should take their own advice and give their managers time, breathing space and support; success will probably follow.
Follow The False Nine on Twitter: @The_False_Nine