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Blue is the colour for Poyet
TO the Sunderland supporters who witnessed it, it remains one of the greatest games at the Stadium of Light. To Gustavo Poyet, however, it is one of his most embarrassing moments in football.
Fourteen years ago today, Sunderland outclassed Chelsea to the extent that they found themselves 4-0 up at half-time. Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn scored two goals apiece, a central midfield pairing of Paul Thirlwell and Eric Roy was just about unplayable, and a Chelsea side containing the likes of Marcel Desailly, Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Wise entered the half-time interval in a chastened state of shock.
Poyet's second-half consolation meant the game eventually finished 4-1, but as he prepares to take on his former side for the first time as a manager this evening, the Sunderland boss cannot remove the humiliating memories from his mind.
“It was one of the worst experiences of my time at Chelsea,” said Poyet. “A complete embarrassment. But for these kind of things to happen, both teams have to play a part.
“Maybe we were not good enough, but at the same time, Sunderland were superb. Mr Quinn and Mr Phillips were on fire. They destroyed us.
“We were poor, but they were very good and it was embarrassing. It showed you that when this place is full and creating a really good atmosphere, the fans can push the players up. On a good day, anything can happen, and we have to remember that and see if we can do something special too.”
Perhaps the memory is so vivid for Poyet because it was so unusual. The Uruguayan might have joined Chelsea six years before Roman Abramovich arrived to enact his revolution, but he was still involved in some of the London club's greatest triumphs.
He won the FA Cup, the Cup Winners' Cup and the European Super Cup during his time at Stamford Bridge, and came tantalisingly close to delivering Chelsea's first league title for almost half a century.
That eventually arrived three years after he left to join Spurs, but he was a member of the squad that began the process of transforming Chelsea's fortunes, and while the speed of progress since has been dramatic, there are elements of the 'old Chelsea' that Poyet regrets have been lost.
“Chelsea means a lot to me,” he said. “I won plenty of trophies there, and when you win trophies, you get close to the club. My time at Chelsea was before Abramovich, and it was more of a family back then.
“It was still an old-fashioned family club, and we knew everybody, people from many years. Then you go to another level and things change. When you see the training ground now, you say, 'Oh my God'. When you saw the old one, you thought, 'Oh my God' for a different reason.
“It is a different Chelsea now, but it is a much better one. We had too many foreigners, and I am one so I can say it. Too many, but that made us very strong because we needed each other a lot. We needed a family, and we became a strong group, led by Dennis Wise. We were a very good team to watch, but we just couldn't win the Premier League. Something was missing.”
That something, of course, was Abramovich's billions and Jose Mourinho's brilliance. The pair came together in 2004, with Mourinho delivering two Premier League titles and an FA Cup.
Their divorce lasted six years, but they were reunited in the summer, and while there have been some early teething problems, the 'Special One' has rapidly moulded Chelsea into potential champions once again.
Poyet has watched Mourinho at close quarters on the training ground on a number of occasions, and does not hesitate to label the Portuguese a managerial genius.
“He is a very special man and a very special coach,” said Poyet. “He knows what he wants, and he has his way of getting it. His approach clearly works because it wins matches, and that is always the key.
“I went to see him a number of times, and he has a system (in training) which is very good. It is unique from what I have seen, and the players really enjoy it.
“If you are a football player and enjoy training with the ball, you will love training with Mourinho. When I was watching the sessions, even I wanted to join in.”
The pair will enjoy each other's company in the wake of tonight's game, with Poyet hoping to be able to reflect on another notable scalp in the wake of last month's surprise win over Manchester City. After that, though, he will revert to being a Chelsea fan.
“If I was without a job and living in London, I would be going to watch Chelsea at the weekend,” he said. “No doubt, I would be there as a fan. I will always love the club.”
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