“For me he is a selfish person, very egocentric. I say that because it’s how I feel. I won’t talk badly about my team-mates, because they have been fantastic with me. What I think is unacceptable is that the manager makes fun of his players. I’ve seen things here that I have never seen in my career. If you miss with a shot in training, he makes fun. For me, that is unacceptable in football."
It could be a missive from the dark days of Paolo Di Canio’s reign at Sunderland. Certainly the complaints are familiar: a manager possessed of a giant ego, who appears to actively relish confrontation with a group of dispirited, put-upon players. But rather than bemoaning the rather abrasive man-management style of the now deposed Sunderland manager, this complaint is directed at the figure who replaces him at the Stadium of Light.
The man responsible for the spiky prose above is Spanish winger Vicente, who chose to articulate his discontent following his release by Gus Poyet’s Brighton in May 2013. Accepting blindly the word of an aggrieved footballer prematurely cut loose from a club is perhaps unwise, but Vicente’s deconstruction of Poyet’s regime at Brighton is still rather compelling in its ferocity.
As a counterweight, Wayne Bridge – once of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea – spoke glowingly of Poyet’s qualities in the very same month that Vicente vented his feelings in public. “Gus has revitalised my love for football after I was in the wilderness at Manchester City,” he said. “He got me to focus and enjoy my football. He is a top-class manager both tactically and on the man-management side, one of the best I have worked with.”
Managers will always provoke disparate reactions from different players. Still, Vicente’s comments inform common perceptions of Poyet to a not insignificant degree. They start to paint a picture of a man with similar personality traits to Di Canio – who reportedly lost his job at Sunderland following a player rebellion against his ‘dictatorial’ methods.
There are superficial similarities between the two men too - and some rather spooky ones at that.
Di Canio and Poyet both moved to the Premier League in the close season of 1997; a summer when the dizzying, exciting cosmopolitanisation of the English top flight accelerated yet again. They were two prominent members of the growing foreign legion, players who, along with their contemporaries from Brazil, France, Italy and beyond, would increase beyond recognition the technical level of the competition. This lends them a somewhat mythical air in English circles.
Both took their first managerial jobs in the lower leagues: Poyet leading Brighton to promotion from League One to the Championship as champions in 2011; Di Canio leading Swindon to the top of League Two and promotion to League One a year later.
Neither had managerial experience of the Premier League when approached by Sunderland; both saw an opportunity too good to turn down. Who could blame them? The chance of managing in the world’s richest league does not present itself every week.
The comparison does not hold up with considerations of their playing style: Sunderland were quite dismal under Di Canio, while at least at Brighton Poyet established a reputation for progressive football. His time on the South Coast was an unqualified success, winning 86 of his 194 matches in charge and taking the club to their highest league finish in 30 years. An unqualified success, that is, until the very end.
Because despite another successful campaign at Brighton, Poyet was forced to endure a farcical close to the 2012-13 season.
In May, Poyet launched a furious investigation into a Poodunnit as he attempted to discover who had smeared human excrement in the Crystal Palace dressing room prior to the play-off semi-final that Brighton lost to their opponents.
Later he was suspended by the club – for reasons still unclear – and six weeks later was sacked while live on the BBC. A more bizarre end to a successful managerial reign could hardly be scripted. We are not privy to the details of the falling out, but suffice to say the nature of his prolonged and bitter departure from Brighton does not make for a good opening line to his CV.
Though his other achievements at the club make for better reading, you have to wonder whether an entrenched relegation battle is the right introduction for a coach new to elite-level football. If survival is Sunderland's prime aim now this season, perhaps the unspectacular yet undoubtedly reliable Tony Pulis would have been a safe choice.
Instead we are left with an image - and perhaps an unfair one - of a somewhat combustible, unpredictable Poyet who is being promoted above his station. And just weeks after Sunderland disposed of the ruinous Di Canio, it is worth asking owner Ellis Short and agent-turned-director of football Roberto De Fanti whether they have learned from the club’s previous mistakes.
Sunderland have one point from seven games; they are already six points adrift at the bottom of the table. The appointment of the inexperienced Poyet is a huge gamble. If his reign comes to a spectacular end, Sunderland, burned by the Di Canio experience, can hardly say they were not warned.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport