Poyet and Wigan

The rumours are that Gus Poyet is lined up for the vacant position of Sunderland manager.

A few months ago Dave Whelan was looking for a new manager, but Poyet was still involved in wranglings over his controversial dismissal at Brighton. Where would Wigan Athletic be now if Poyet had taken over at the DW?

Poyet’s Brighton last season had been playing a kind of football akin to that of Wigan Athletic under Roberto Martinez. If Whelan had wanted to carry on the footballing tradition put in place by Martinez, Poyet was the most obvious choice.

Poyet had joined Brighton, struggling in League 1, in November 2009. Within no time the style of play had changed to something unseen before at the south coast club.  Moreover it brought excellent results. Poyet steered the club to safety in that first season, then to the League 1 title in 2010-11, when he was named ‘Manager of the Year’ in the division. Last year Brighton adjusted well and made a late run to reach the playoffs in the Championship, but were thwarted by Crystal Palace.

Why Poyet was sacked soon after remains a mystery, but his record was undeniably good. He had transformed a disjointed, struggling League 1 team into a formidable side who played with an emphasis on skill. Moves built up from the back, with the ball on the ground – not a common sight in the frantic Championship, let alone League 1.

Poyet’s name was one of many banded about by the media to replace Martinez,  but in the end it came down to either Owen Coyle or Steve McClaren, both experienced and capable managers who could do a job for the club. However, once their candidacy was made public the writing was already on the wall for Latics’ playing style, which had been developed over a period of four years at all levels within the club.

Latics were to choose a manager diametrically opposed to the previous one in terms of football philosophy and tactical approach. In contrast, Brighton sought to find someone who could continue to build on the work of Poyet. Oscar Garcia was to be their new appointment.

On his appointment Garcia said that “My obsession is to attack, to attack the opposition, to keep the ball and to have the ball as many times as possible”. They could have been the words of Roberto Martinez or Gus Poyet.

Looking at Garcia’s background it is not surprising that he espouses that philosophy. He was an attacking midfielder for Barcelona in the 1990’s, winning no fewer than 11 trophies in his time with them as a player. From 2010-12 he was in charge of Barcelona’s famous youth academy at La Masia, before going on to take Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Israeli title for the first time in ten years. Maccabi’s owner had wanted to change their philosophy to develop a more attractive style of football.

Neither Garcia at Brighton nor Coyle at Wigan has had an easy start to the season. Brighton and Latics  stand neck-and-neck just below mid-table at this point. Both clubs have had injury problems and have not yet  performed at their best.

It will be interesting to see who is higher in the table at the end of the season. Will it be the club who appointed someone to build on past success by maintaining a certain style of football or will it be the one for which the style is secondary to good results and promotion back to the Premier League?

It seems a long time since Roberto Martinez left Wigan. His Everton team are currently unbeaten and in fourth place in the Premier League. Moreover the quality of their football has noticeably improved in his short tenure there.

Martinez certainly had his up and downs at Wigan, but he proved that a club of relatively modest means can win the FA Cup – on merit, through playing attractive football.

Whether Martinez can maintain the good results at Everton remains to be seen. The Goodison club just don’t have the financial resources to consistently challenge the elite. However, he has certainly confounded his critics and made a good start.

Football would be boring if all teams played in the same way. People like Guardiola and Allardyce have widely different philosophies, but both have produced results out of what they have had available.

The question is not of choosing one style over another, but how to provide progression within a club. Surely Coyle would be wise to build on the good things that Martinez put in place, working on the weaknesses, rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater. A better defence and a more direct and urgent approach in attack would help.

Only time will tell if Coyle is willing or able to do that. Who knows what would have happened had Poyet been appointed at Wigan in July?

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