Gus Poyet: the story of the Seagulls’ saviour

“This is another challenge for me to take the club where everybody in Brighton wants to be and that’s in the Championship. Being realistic I think 18 months is possible. If that is the goal of the club it’s no problem.”

Gus Poyet – 10th November 2009

It had been a gamble, writes John Verrall. When Tony Bloom announced that Gus Poyet would take over as Brighton manager, replacing Russell Slade, he came with no past experience in the role before. Brighton were hardly in a stable position either, sitting in 20th position in League One. With the threat of relegation a real worry, many chairmen would have opted to appoint a more proven, experienced manager. If this appointment was not successful, the Seagulls would be playing League Two football in 2010-2011.

It turned out to be more successful than anyone could have predicted. Poyet’s previous managerial experience had consisted of three assistant manager roles — at Swindon, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur — where he was largely heralded for his work. Indeed, Leeds fans often credit Poyet rather than Dennis Wise, who was manager whilst Poyet was working as assistant, as the brains of the operation. The Uruguayan had certainly done his apprenticeship for management, but many had done so before – and failed.

Poyet’s first aim was to save the club from relegation. His reign started with a 3-1 victory over Southampton and it was a signal of things to come. Many managers have a “honeymoon period” when taking over a new job, but for Brighton and Poyet this still hasn’t finished. By the end of the 2009-2010 season, Brighton had finished in a comfortable 13th place and the fears of relegation were long forgotten. This was an achievement in itself but it was during the summer that Poyet really started to make his mark on the club and put his philosophy in place.

With a host of new signings, combining the vastly experienced Gordon Greer, Radostin Kishishev and Casper Ankergren with the mercurial young talents of Kazenga Lua Lua and Ashley Barnes, Poyet had prepared a squad that he thought could take on League One. His initial aim had been to provide promotion within 18 months. He had 12 months left.

Poyet, on the pitch, had been a graceful central midfielder, gifted with wonderful technical ability and his footballing approach shone through in his management. Over the summer Brighton’s approach to football changed. Poyet said that “the biggest thing for me is that the team plays the way I want, the team was not playing like that when I arrived”. Slade’s Brighton were hardly a long-ball team but Poyet’s approach was a continental one. His style moved away from the conventions of lower league English football. He shortened the passing, added more tactical variations to Brighton’s play — often favouring a 4-3-3 away from home — and got his team playing a much higher tempo.

All of a sudden, lower-league journeymen were looking like accomplished, technically astute footballers. Adam El-Abd, a robust, no-nonsense centre-back was turned into a ball playing defender. Elliott Bennett began to look a class above anybody else in the division with his pace and attacking prowess. Glenn Murray was transformed into one of the division’s top goalscorers. Brighton were reaping the benefits of Poyet’s leadership and managerial approach. From the offset they were League One’s leaders and they were not about to let the position slip.

At Peterborough in October, Brighton destroyed a team tipped widely tipped as promotion candidates on their own patch. A 3-0 win was the final score but the league leaders could easily have had double figures — Poyet acknowledged Joe Lewis, the Peterborough goalkeeper, as Man of the Match. Midway through the match, though, a telling chorus of “we’re f****** brilliant” broke out from the away contingent. It was hard to argue otherwise.

If Brighton fans were well and truly sold by Poyet’s approach, then so were the players. It was winning formula. By May the South coast side hadn’t stopped being brilliant and ended up winning the league on 16th April, almost a month before the season ended. It had been a quite remarkable season for a team that were expected to be play-off contenders at best. In the end, they had shown themselves a class above anyone else in a division that included the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Huddersfield Town.

Indeed, Brighton can now claim to be able to compete with these clubs in all areas of the game. Poyet has revolutionised the club on the pitch and Bloom is backing him with funds off it. The 2011-2012 season sees Brighton move away from the Withdean, a crumbling ramshackle old ground never designed for football – and move into Falmer Stadium, a modern 22,000 seater stadium with state of the art facilities. With 18,000 season tickets already sold and a host of reputable lower league players — including Craig Mackail-Smith, Will Hoskins and Kazenga Lua Lua – joining Poyet’s revolution, the future for Brighton looks very bright indeed. Many have tipped them as promotion contenders this season and it is very hard to argue otherwise.

Poyet’s start to managerial life has been very impressive. He has shown loyalty to Brighton in rejecting the advances of a number of clubs already, stating it would take a “very special club” to make him leave the South coast. Who can blame him either? With Bloom providing backing, the supporters flocking to see the Seagulls play and some wonderfully talented players at his disposal, Brighton are looking like an exciting proposition at the minute.

Ahead of the new season Poyet has stated that “perfection for this club would be to win the Championship in the new stadium.” And after almost achieving perfection last season who’s to say they won’t do it again this year?

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. DM Andy
    August 4, 2011

    Brighton were a class above Huddersfield and Southampton? You must be joking. To outclass a team, you surely must first have to beat them. In their four games against the Terriers and the Saints, the “mighty” Brighton managed a sum total of 1 draw to go with the 3 losses, that being a 0-0 against Southampton where Gus Poyet’s men parked the bus.

    For me the best team in League One last season on average was Huddersfield with the best team at their peak being Peterborough.

    • John Verrall
      August 4, 2011

      Being a Posh fan I’m afraid we cannot claim to be the 2nd best team in League One last season. We were the 4th best, hence why we finished there. After 46 games the league generally gives an accurate representation of where each team deserves to finish.

      As for your figures of the games against Huddersfield and Saints two of them were effectively dead-rubbers for Brighton, seeing as they had already secured the title, whilst Saints and Hudders were still playing for automatic promotion.

      • DM Andy
        August 5, 2011

        John, you’re saying that if the home games v Southampton and Huddersfield had been earlier in the season then they would have been resounding Brighton victories? At best that’s fanciful and the idea that Gus Poyet can’t motivate his squad to perform for the fans (who definitely did want to beat Southampton at least) would rather undermine your god-like status for him.

        Against Southampton Brighton fielded a full strength team whereas Southampton was wracked by injury, no Harding, no Schneiderlin, no Barnard, no Chamberlin and only a half-fit Lallana. But Southampton still won that game. They weren’t outclassed.

        • John Verrall
          August 5, 2011

          No, not at all, Southampton and Huddersfield were both very good sides and no game against them would have been a given victory. All I am saying is that if the game had meant as much for Brighton and Southampton then I think the result may have been different.

          I don’t think Poyet is “god-like” but he has a great start to management, undeniably, and that is what I was recognising.

          I would say if a team wins the league in the middle of April they’ve been a class above the rest of the division.

    • Ed
      August 14, 2011

      Dm, your specious reasoning is laughable.

  2. Ben Rawlings
    August 4, 2011

    Decent enough article but I have to with DM Andy to a certain extent. The season was excellent, with Poyet introducing a style of football that was too good for the vast majority of teams in the division. High points for me and evidence that we deserved the title were the away thrashings of Peterborough and Charlton (close to us at the time) and the month of March which featured 24 points and 8 wins from 8 games.
    However, our performances against teams that finished in 2nd-6thu us were largely disappointing. Apart from spanking Peterborough home and away, we managed only one victory from the 8 games against Bournemouth, MK Dons, Saints and Huddersfield (although both the home fixtures against these last two were effectivley dead rubbers coming after promotion was secured).
    So, in summary, we were f***ing brilliant but there is still work to be done and fans of the clubs I’ve mentioned have some right to feel a little annoyed at the adulation being thrown our way. 6 points and a league finish above Southampton should sort that out though.

  3. Stray Cat
    August 4, 2011

    Nice article and made for a good read just in time for this Saturday. Despite the protests and the frequent begrudging praise we were the best team in the division. Granted we may have had indifferent performances against some of the top placed teams, we didn’t thrash saints (not sure we “parked the bus”) but we DID stay at the top of the table, month after month and that shows quality.
    We played some excellent, attractive football and had the title won by mid April, a pretty classy way to finish.
    To quote Gus Poyet….
    “When you look back in 10 years time at who won the championship this year it was Brighton playing football and passing the ball – not kicking it into the box.”


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