SUNDERLAND last night made one of the most important signings of their summer after they secured the services of Gustavo Poyet for another two years.
The Uruguayan extended his contract as Black Cats manager with speculation linking him with the vacant post at Southampton, on a day where his team also made their first move in the transfer market by bringing in out-of-contract defender Billy Jones from West Bromwich Albion.
Poyet achieved what many had called 'the Great Escape', taking the seemingly down-and-out Sunderland from rock bottom to a creditable 14th-place finish, while also giving the club their first trip to Wembley in 16 years with an appearance in the Capital One Cup final.
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However, uncertainty regarding his summer plans led Southampton to show interest in the former Brighton manager following Mauricio Pochettino's resignation to take over at Tottenham, but Sunderland's chief executive Margaret Byrne and sporting director Lee Congerton persuaded Poyet to stay on Wearside.
Poyet said last night: “I am delighted to extend my stay with Sunderland AFC, after an unbelievable season and our famous great escape.
"Stability is absolutely key to long-term and sustained success for any football club, and this new contract gives both the club and me that stability going forward.
“Now it's a different challenge for me and the club and I am relishing the next stage with Sunderland. We achieved so much last season, working together – the club and the fans – and we took many good memories from the season.
"The prospect of creating more of those memories is one which excites me, and now I cannot wait for the next chapter in my career and the history of Sunderland AFC."
Sunderland AFC’s sporting director, Lee Congerton, added: “We are naturally delighted that Gus has committed his long-term future to Sunderland. Our plans are well under way in terms of summer recruitment and we are working hard to bring new faces to the squad ahead of the 2014-15 season.”
Poyet’s backroom team of Mauricio Taricco, Charlie Oatway, Andy Beasley (goalkeeping coach) and Antonio Pintus (fitness coach) will continue to work alongside him.
Meanwhile, new boy Jones has revealed working under Poyet was a major influence behind his decision to leave West Brom after watching the head coach save the Black Cats from relegation last season.
Jones put pen to paper on a four-year deal yesterday and will officially become Sunderland’s first summer singing on July 1, after rejecting an improved offer to prolong his three-year stay at the Hawthorns.
The 27-year-old, who began his career at Crewe Alexandra before moving onto Preston and then West Brom, is regarded as a natural replacement for the recently departed Phil Bardsley, although he is also capable of playing on the left.
Poyet has moved quickly to secure his first signing of a summer that will see him focus on re-building a squad that narrowly avoided relegation to the Championship last season.
A run of one defeat in their last six games – including famous wins over Chelsea and Manchester United – secured their place in the top flight for another season, and Jones revealed he has been impressed by the job Poyet has done since being appointed.
“I’m looking forward to working under Gus,” the 27-year-old said. “I met with him before signing and the way he talked and the passion and enthusiasm he showed and what he’s already done since being here was a massive selling point.
“I feel the way he turned the club’s fortunes around last year was a massive influence and I feel that next season is going to be season for me to kick on personally and for the club to move forward and kick on up the league.
“Last season, Sunderland ended up safe when many had written them off. I know at one point in the season at West Brom we thought “they might be on their way down” but what they did to turn it around was unbelievable.
“Not only that, reaching one cup final and almost reaching another, it ended up being a season which wasn’t all doom and gloom, but I think the consistency showed in the back end of last year is a sign of what’s to come.”
Jones’ season was restricted by injuries with the defender making only 22 appearances, but having left behind troubled times at West Brom, who are yet to appoint a successor to Pepe Mel, the defender is relishing a new challenge on Wearside.
He said: “I'm really happy to be here and I'm looking forward to getting back for pre-season and kicking on.
“I've played at the Stadium of Light a number of times so I know what it's about and what great backing the club has.
“I've come to the training ground today (Wednesday) and it's amazing. I knew I was signing for a massive club with everything in place to kick on up the league and carry on moving forward.
“I feel that the age I am it’s time to kick on. I know I can play at this level and play consistently well at this level and I feel the next four years here should be the best football I play in this league. That’s what I’m expecting and I’m sure that’s what the gaffer and the club is expecting.”
As a versatile, attack-minded defender, Jones’ capture offers an insight into Poyet’s vision for next season, but he hopes to contribute to a successful season at both ends of the field.
“First and foremost as a defender I’m proud to keep clean sheets but I feel I have improved on attacking and having spoken to the gaffer about the way he wants to play, it is a good match with me signing and I just hope to be solid and keep clean sheets but also hopefully get some assists and score some goals.
“Right back is my strongest position but I’m always happy to fill in if needs be for the good of the squad and for the team. I’ve been fortunate to play a few games at left back in this league and managed to do okay so if need be that’s no problem.”
Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore played the full 90 minutes in the USA’s friendly 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in San Francisco on Tuesday night.
Substitutes Mikkel Diskerud and Aron Johannsson both scored in the second half to secure victory for the Americans.
John O'Shea's Republic of Ireland are set for friendly action on Saturday when they take on Italy at Fulham's Craven Cottage.
O'Shea played the full 90 minutes of their last outing - a 2-1 defeat to the Turks in Dublin last Sunday.