GUSTAVO POYET has outlined a desire to focus on the long term at Sunderland despite the uncertainty surrounding the club’s Premier League future – and he is ready to accept partial responsibility for any relegation pain.
Sunderland head in to tomorrow’s important fixture at Norwich City knowing defeat against one of the teams also facing the threat of Championship football could have a negative effect on the rest of the campaign.
Similarly, though, a positive result at Carrow Road could give the Black Cats the perfect boost for the final ten matches as they look to climb out of the bottom three.
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Poyet is acutely aware of the situation his team faces in the remaining seven weeks and, despite taking over when Sunderland had just one point from seven matches, he is determined to build on what he has started by securing top-flight status.
“Are we still playing catch up from those first eight games? No doubt,” said Poyet, who also suffered a 4-0 defeat to Swansea City in his first game in charge in October.
“I am going to be judged from the time I came here until now. We have won more points than the games we have played since I have been here. If we do the same now until the end of the season we will be alright.
“When I took over? We were dead. Dead. Will I have failed if we go down? I will take it. I will be responsible.
“I am not going to defend what went before, in the last two years, because that would be going against myself for no reason, but I am going to be very honest and I think we are there, we have done a lot and I think we will finish the job. I will take responsibility for what I have done.
“If we make 40 points and we go down, which means I will have got 39 points in 31 games, I am responsible. But there is a limit (to my responsibility). I will accept my responsibility, no doubt.”
Sunderland head for Norwich sitting on 25 points after 27 matches and a victory could see them climb out of the relegation zone.
It is, though, difficult for Poyet and the club’s new director of football, Lee Congerton, to finalise transfer plans for next season, given it remains unclear what division Sunderland will be playing in.
Staying up will seriously change the way they operate in the market, following last week’s posting of the accounts that highlighted net operating losses of £26.9m for the year ending July 2012.
An increase in Premier League TV cash this season means the club’s situation would be relatively strong if they can stay up. Poyet, who signed a two-year deal when he took over, insists he is determined to help the club build for the future.
He said: “I do feel that responsibility. I love responsibility and pressure. I want to make sure that we start to make money or not lose as much money.
“It is important that we pay attention to the academy and have stability so that you don’t need to keep sacking managers, paying them off, starting from zero and rebuilding. And having a sporting director and then, again, having another sporting director.
“That's how also you lose money. It's about stability. It is difficult because you have the pressure of the fans and everyone thinks you should be Champions League, Europa League, but that's not possible.”
Sunderland’s chief executive Margaret Byrne suggested last weekend that Poyet’s position is safe regardless of what happens between now and May 11. The Uruguayan has one eye on the summer too.
“I have to plan for next season somehow,” he said. “We have started with pre-season and slowly with the friendlies, with the dates and the programme of the season.
“At the moment we have not touched the Championship one. We are trying to be very positive and believe we are going to make it, but it is difficult and all of the teams are in the same position.
“I have the contract. If we lost the next 11 games then maybe not! It is difficult to plan. Me, I just try to plan for what my contract says and the way I work is that, even if I don't know if I will be here in two or three years, I plan ahead just in case.
“I respect other people, but I don't like just to say I am only interested in this year and I don't care about next. Next year if I am here I care. We need to make sure we are doing something for next year and the year after.
“Sunday afternoons I have been looking a bit at how the Under-18s have been playing and the Under-21s the other day, to make decisions on players' futures and when we can train with them, have contact with them.”
Given the length of Poyet’s contract, it would be easy for him to purely focus on keeping Sunderland up.
But he said: “That's my character. I want to be part of it. You can’t just concentrate now and just finish the season by getting safe with a late goal and go 'it's a nightmare I've got 11 players signing for other teams and everything has gone'. I hate that. It would be starting from zero. Even minus ten.”
One player unlikely to play much part in the remaining ten games of the season is striker Steven Fletcher. He has had scans on the ankle he twisted against Crystal Palace last week and is still being assessed.
Poyet said: “He is not fit for this weekend. We are trying to stay calm and assess properly. It depends how bad the twist is. It depends how badly the ligaments are damaged.”