Reading, Bridcutt and Poyet

The general aim of this blog is to take a more light hearted view of the Albion. Anyone expecting this to be even vaguely amusing, however, should look away now.

Firstly a big congratulations to everyone involved in the Reading FA Cup game. A dominant performance spoiled only by repeatedly hitting the bar again, it ranks as one of my favourite days out at the Amex. Thanks to the reduced pricing I was able to take Boy and his mate and try out the West Lower for a change. The view was very different to my usual lofty one in the WSU and, while I missed the perspective, it was great seeing the  players so close up and them getting to hear us (and vice versa). Two of the best bits of skill of the game, first from Agustein, then Lua Lua , also took place right in front of us. It sent the boys home buzzing. Perhaps the only thing it was missing was a virtuoso string tugging performance by Liam Bridcutt. By last night I think we all knew why.

The facts as I understand them are this; Sunderland have lodged a transfer bid for Liam believed to be in the region of £2.5 million initially. So far no deal has been done or accepted. Therefore, last night, Bridcutt handed in a transfer request. Also he has the same agent as Gus Poyet.

I’m now going to try and make the difficult case that Sunderland should pay more than this but also that we don’t really need him anymore. Wish me luck.

They should pay more. Liam Bridcutt has been our player of the season for the last two seasons running and for good reason. He is the sort of player that is essential to the way a Poyet team sets up. If you are a Sunderland fan and reading this then understand that this is what you will be getting. The ball will come to your goalkeeper who will be expected to play a simple ball to one of the back four. They will spend the next five minutes (ok, maybe not literally but it will feel like it) passing the ball between themselves a la Ray Wilkins. The second this actually opens a gap in the opposition’s shape (and in the Premier League I fear this could take a very long time indeed) Bridcutt will make himself available at the base of the midfield. He’ll collect the pass and assess the situation. If the shape is still not there from the opposition he’ll find a telling ball to one of the more attacking midfielders or play it out in neat triangles. If the opposition have organised again he will play it back to the back four. And so it will go on.

Liam is really valuable when the opposition has it however. He can read and break up play and, for a little bloke, he wins his fair share of headers. Once he has won the ball back in this way he can set you going forwards again.

To use an American Football analogy he is both Quarterback and Strong Safety. He can dictate the play and break it up. A Chelsea trainee, he must have spent time watching Makélélé play even if it was just on video because that’s his role. £2.5 million for this is a bargain.

We don’t need him. Last season, losing Bridcutt would have sent me in to meltdown, so key was he to Poyet’s style, so few other players were there who could do that job. Under Oscar Garcia, however we really only need the Strong Safety element of his game. A quicker passing game that can bypass the base of midfield is what we are after and what we are increasingly playing. Furthermore we have Rohan Ince or Keith Andrews who can fill in to the midfield holding role. Neither reads the game as well and I am yet to be convinced by Andrews (though he was excellent against Reading) but the point is they can do a job, and that job is less critical. Bridcutt has been missing for most of the season and has not been himself when he’s returned. We lay seventh, equal on points with sixth placed Ipswich and in the fourth round of the cup. Losing Liam will no longer be the disaster it would have been.

So why the transfer request? Why has he not been the same player? The answer is simply Gus Poyet. Anyone who thought we were done when he quietly dropped his legal action were very mistaken. Gus has an ego the size of Uruguay and he was always going to try and strike back at Burke, Barber and Bloom or whoever it was he feels slighted by. Unsettling a player he regards as pivotal was the ideal opportunity to do just that. Of course it’s just possible that Liam hasn’t met the agent that they share since Gus took up the reigns at Sunderland. It’s just possible that , if he has, the prospect of playing up there has never even been mentioned. Perhaps they played golf and discussed the weather. But I don’t think so. The fact that Gus has also bid under the odds (at least in terms of us recouping our outlay) on the hamstrung Will Buckley, speaks volumes that what he is trying to do is unsettle our squad rather than make a purchase. There is simply no way I can see Bloom and Barber saying yes to either deal.

So what if he ups the offer? The irony is that, not only is Bridcutt less of a key man now, but Gus could be doing his career serious damage. At Christmas Sunderland were bottom. History tells us they are going down. There is every chance of us getting in to the playoffs. It is not fantasy land to suggest that we could swap places. It is not fantasy land to suggest that if Sunderland stay in trouble their fans will be on the team and manager’s back. It is not fantasy land to suggest Ellis Short has an itchy trigger finger.

Poyet has gone out of his way to unsettle a player who deserves Premier League football. The problem is he may not be able to give him very much of it.

Time for Poyet to Foxtrot Oscar

So the Gus Poyet saga is heading towards over. No news yet on the appeal to his sacking but the club have moved on and appointed a new man to a new role. Welcome to Brighton and Hove Albion, The Amex and, most importantly Casa Don Carlos, Oscar Garcia Junyent. Head coach. *winks*

The manner of Poyet’s sacking (and indeed his suspension) has been the subject of much talk on Twitter and Facebook, in pubs and workplaces and on North Stand Chat (a place I normally leave for the close season). Fans have appeared to be divided in to Club and Poyet camps much as you appear to have to choose between Labour and Tory or Simon Cowell and humanity. In reality I’m not sure the camps are that straight forward.

For me Poyet’s position became untenable the second he speculated about ‘hitting the roof’ after the Palace defeat. I’m not saying I know that’s why he was suspended because no one outside the proceedings knows that, but saying ‘can I have a shitload more cash please boss’ when you’ve just capitulated at home to your biggest rivals is never going to go down well. That doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of everything he did while he was here (something I’ll come back to a bit later).

Equally, no matter what they say, in my opinion the club scored a PR own goal as spectacular as the one by Colin Hawkins at Withdean with the manner in which they announced Poyet’s sacking. Allowing him to go on TV and claim he had found out about his sacking live on air, whatever the reality, looked bad to fans of other clubs and the public at large. The placing of the statement simply could not have been more badly timed. This does not mean I am anti club, anti Paul Barber or stirring up heated revolution against the legend that is Tony Bloom. Simply that I have found some of the goings on at the club frustrating and puzzling. If that’s how I see it as a fan what must the players have been thinking?

The club have come back strongly this week with the appointment of Oscar. Unlike the hoards of experts on NSC who somehow managed to make time to watch every Maccabi Tel Aviv game last season as well as ours, I don’t actually know anything about him beyond a paper coaching record and a vague memory of someone swarthy turning out for Barcelona on nights when there was no game on featuring an Englsih team. However it’s that Barca pedigree that excites me. The team under Poyet were staffed and set up to play a particular way and it needed a particular type of boss to be appointed to take us forward. It increasingly looks like we are adopting the Swansea model, something that excites and pleases me in equal measure.

Besides, as unknown as Oscar may be in England, he represents the polar opposite of the gravy train of failed mediocrity that is the rest of the English managerial merry go round. Some of the other names touted were just ridiculous. Harry “£12 million on Christopher Samba” Redknapp with his huge Sandbanks residence to maintain? No thanks. Glenn “it’s the disabled’s own fault” Hoddle with his failure academy and failed tenure at Wolves? Not on your nelly. Colin Wanker? As out moded as my mum’s prawn cocktail recipe. *makes Family Fortunes big yellow cross noise*

No Oscar is a spectacular gamble from a spectacular gambler but I’d rather we were going large (and modern) with a high risk strategy than trying not to lose our stake by constantly folding. In Tony and Oscar we trust.

That doesn’t mean I want to rewrite Poyet’s history. In my less than humble opinion he’s the best manager we’ve had since Mullery. A dispassionate look at statistics and names backs this up. Whereas Mickey Adams’s first signing as manager second time round was the aforementioned Colin Hawkins, Poyet brought flair and a trophy to the grim surroundings of Withdean. Far before we had the Amex we had Elliot Bennet and Liam Bridcutt, exciting young players far too good for that league. Poyet turned Kazenga Lua Lua from a sprinter and gymnast with a brain the size of a pea in to a footballer with a brain the size of a pea. He kept us up in his first season and then set about building a side that was part football team, part philosophy and all ego. Poyet’s ego.

Ultimately that might be what led to the unfortunate events of the last month and a bit but we should not forget that we improved our league position in every season under Gus just as he’d promised. That fans used to watching the aforementioned Hawkins, for whom Gary Hart was a hero because he was “a trier” have suddenly been treated to Wayne Bridge, Tomasz Kuszczak, Matthew Upson and Vicente, internationals all as well as Greer, Bridcutt and CMS earning international call ups (*whispers* but only for Scotland). Winning League 1 while winning all 8 games in March, the St Patrick’s Day massacre of Palace, our first shot at the top flight via the playoffs since 1991, the 6-1 demolition of Blackpool and the spectacular, breathtaking opening competitive win at the Amex over Doncaster were all achieved while aboard the Gus Bus. Now, however it is being overtaken by the Os-car. Let’s hope it’s a joyride.

From The Stars to The Gutter

Last week being a Brighton fan was brilliant. Last week we were heading for the stars. We had thrashed Blackpool 6-1 in one of the best displays I’ve ever seen from our club. Then we secured 4th place in the Championship, securing both a playoff place and a higher finish in the table than bitter rivals Crystal Palace, by winning at Leeds and overcoming a disappointing Wolves team. After that game the players did a lap of honour with their kids and I drank myself silly and danced to Northern Soul and reggae in the concourse under the North Stand. A celebration too early? Not a bit of it. Last Friday in the first leg of the playoff semi we went to Palace and came away with a creditable 0-0 draw. We could have won. And they lost Glenn Murray, top scorer and former Seagull to an admittedly horrid injury. While that was nothing to gloat over waking up this time last week felt pretty good. Since then it’s been a load of old shit, metaphorically and allegedly literally.

I write a lot but not much about the Albion. When we moved to the Amex my deal with my family was that I would get a season ticket for home games as long as I didn’t go away. Somehow not seeing away games made me feel I would be commenting on half the story. Towards the end of last season I started to think that my twitter was becoming clogged with BHAFC stuff and that actually ONLY going to home games could be a USP. I planned this blog. This week’s events have accelerated its birth.

So to summarise. We lost the return leg 2-0 to bitter rivals Palace who’s goals came from Wilfried Zaha who, in the first half at Selhurst and in the St Patricks Day Massacre had been distinctly average and had been told about it. Some “genius” in the marketing department decided to hand out annoying colour coded clackers (as someone on NSC said, the sort of thing Reading would do). And someone allegedly took a dump on the Palace dressing room floor, reminding everyone of that old Duncan Ferguson joke.

Then Gus Poyet gave a frankly baffling post match interview that was pretty much a ‘come and get me’ appeal to Premier League teams (Hello? Gus? You just lost. To fucking Palace). As we licked our wounds the news suddenly came that Poyet along with assistants Mauricio Tarrico and Charlie Oatway had been suspended with immediate effect and that the ‘retained’ list had been done by others at the club. As I type all sorts of speculation is rife.   One thing that seems certain is that Poyet won’t be managing us next season.

Poyet. I love that man. Loved anyway. It’s like breaking up with an annoying partner you happen to be addicted to. His teams played beautiful football, the emphasis on skill and passing. We were like the Little Girl With The Curl. When we were good we were very, very good and when we were bad we were horrid. No plan B, team selections that were occasionally baffling and the total inability to come from behind (ironic given the gay chants aimed at Brighton). But against that the likes of ex England players Bridge and Upson playing in the stripes along with ex-Spain Vicente. The same Vicente who today stuck the knife in to Gus’ still twitching body in the local paper. He won League 1 at a canter in a crappy old athletics stadium. Then we finished above Palace in the first season back in the Championship (this matters). Then this season there was the St Patricks Day Massacre followed by the Blackpool game and 4th place. Make no mistake Poyet achieved.

So if and when he goes who will go with him? Bridge and Upson’s loans are over and I don’t think Senor Vicente will be getting a call but the player I want to stay more than anyone is Liam Bridcutt. Liam plays football like Heston cooks, like Johnny Marr plays guitar, like Clive James writes. This pretty much guarantees he will be off to Norwich.

As for the next manager who knows? All I know for now is that we are back in the gutter. We have to get back, somehow, to the stars. I hope to document the journey.