Gus Poyet: United’s core players to blame and Chelsea should be title contenders
Gus Poyet scored 36 goals in more than a hundred appearances for Chelsea between 1997-2001 and has been a manager all over the world.
In an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes at the launch of its 5-A-Side bet on Chelsea v Newcastle, the current Greece coach gave us his thoughts on the current Blues squad, the troubles at Manchester United and Mikel Arteta’s success at Arsenal.
Chelsea should be challenging for the title
My opinion on Chelsea hasn’t changed. I thought at the beginning of the season that they needed to be title contenders. When you are the Champions League winners, and you then go and sign a striker for £90m, that means you need to challenge for the title – it’s really simple.
We can’t make excuses, we can’t blame Covid, injuries or anything. Chelsea needed to be title contenders this year – that’s the bottom line. It’s because of Chelsea, they cannot blame anyone else. Look, they haven’t lost too many games, but their issue has been too many draws, and that’s why they’re so far behind Manchester City and Liverpool.
As far as positives go, without a doubt they’re the best team in the division behind the top two, and I’m confident they’re going to get better and better in the coming years. They boast many different kinds of players, but if I’m being honest, right now, when Mason Mount isn’t at his best – or isn’t playing – Chelsea miss creativity. They’re a little more predictable when Mount’s not on his game.
You know what Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner are going to do, and you can prepare better for those names. But Mount is the kind of player who makes special things happen. His timing, understanding, positioning, is so good, he’s hard to play against. Because of the quantity of games and the changes that Thomas Tuchel makes, he doesn’t have that option to play Mount every week, and so every time he doesn’t feature, that creativity is gone.
I’d normally expect Kai Havertz to share some of that responsibility with Mason, but because of the problems with Romelu Lukaku, Havertz is playing up-front, where we don’t really get to see him at his best.
Chelsea find themselves in a ‘really strange’ position for a club of their size
I think it’s just a problem with time. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining why Chelsea aren’t up there with Man City and Liverpool. Too many new players have come in. The team has been very strong defensively, they have the best record in the division with City. That’s been a real strength of Tuchel’s – but the club now finds itself in a position where three of their main defenders have contracts expiring this summer. That’s very strange for a club like Chelsea.
It was four names up until very recently, but they renewed Thiago Silva’s deal. I’m so pleased he’ll be staying at Stamford Bridge because I think he’s just such a fantastic player. But Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen are all set to leave the club this summer.
The problem with that is that every single player reacts differently when they’re in the last few months of their contract and they don’t know where they’re going to be next season. I’m not saying it’s a conscious effort made by players to just stop trying. And I’m not saying every player takes it easy, it’s an unconscious thing. There were rumours last week that Christensen was sorting a deal with Barcelona. Can you really go and play in the next game, if you’ve just been negotiating all week with another club?
I’ve been in a similar position before, where I’ve known I was leaving a club with a few months left on my contract. But because of my character, I was able to play even better – especially in my last few games with Real Zaragoza before I signed for Chelsea. I’m not going to tell you names, but I’ve played with people who have told me ‘I’m finishing. I’ve signed a contract with another club, so I’m taking it easy now – because what happens if I injure myself?’
I would like to think that Azpilicueta and Rudiger show 100% commitment, regardless of their futures – we don’t know whether that’s the case with Christensen because he doesn’t play as much. Again, I’m not saying he’s doing it on purpose, it’s an unconscious thing in some players. If a player does it on purpose, that’s terrible, it’s as simple as that.
I’ve always just been very honest with myself, both as a manager and as a player. If I sign a contract for four years, I give my everything for that club every time I wear their shirt. It’s the same the other way around as well. I don’t like it when clubs give players four-year deals and then decide after two that they’re not going to play them anymore. Respect is a two-way thing.
Man United’s problem is so simple to identify – it’s nothing to do with who’s in charge
For me, the problem at Manchester United is very simple to identify. Clubs will change their manager once or twice, and you might put it down to them – but how many have tried since Sir Alex Ferguson? They are on their fifth permanent manager now. Is it still the manager that’s the problem, because people only ever talk about the Man United manager? Right now, people are now starting to look at things a lot deeper – but a month ago it was Ralf Rangnick who was apparently the problem.
Stop talking about the manager, stop blaming them. They’ve tried every different style, character, nationality and they’re still not performing. On paper, it’s an unbelievable team full of power, size and technique. But it’s not working. When that kind of thing happens, the problem – for me – is the core of the team. The players who are the base of the team; the ones who they need to centre everything around – they’re the problem. It’s clear to me, it’s not a question of managers.
It’s common sense. When somebody gets sacked and a new guy comes in and turns things around, you can maybe look and say there was a clear issue there with the previous manager. When you’re five managers into a project and things still haven’t changed, don’t tell me it’s the manager’s fault.
They destroyed Jose Mourinho, but he won a couple of trophies with them. And he was supposed to be the worst thing for United? Maybe they need to rethink those claims. He said things, if you remember, about certain players. He said some very strong things about them – but he won trophies. The rest haven’t been able to do that.
The club needs to think a little deeper and take a different approach and communicate better with the fans. Whoever comes in next, the board has to explain to its supporters what their intentions are. Send a message to the fans and create some thinking about the next, say, three seasons.
Pick a coach and let him do his job. Let him finish sixth in his first season if he has to, then let him take a few players out and slowly build his own team. The problem is that people are living with this image of Manchester United from the Sir Alex Ferguson days, that they must win. But they are far, far away from that. We’re talking there about a team from almost 10 years ago.
United should stop talking about Fergie’s teams of old and start creating something new
To be honest, I don’t see Ralf Rangnick in charge of Manchester United next season. Too many things have gone on surrounding him so I don’t see him staying as a coach. Look, maybe I’m wrong – he knows better than us. From the beginning, though, I was not expecting him to stick around for the long-term.
But then again, you hear that phrase ‘interim manager’. We’re talking about Manchester United here. If it’s someone coming in for a month or so, then OK. But it means a club of that size will have brought someone in just for half a season. It’s a very, very strange situation.
As far as his replacement goes, I’d need to know what the club’s intentions are before I mention any names. Are they going to go for a coach who is going to form something slowly over the course of a few years? If so, we can talk about the likes of Mauricio Pochettino or Brendan Rodgers. Or are they again going to look at someone who can bring them immediate success, which we’ve spoken about how difficult a task that is at this club right now.
It’s a problem. The main thing is that the club needs to make a decision on the process and the new project; forget about Alex Ferguson’s team and their success in the 90s and early 2000s. This has got to stop – we’re five managers into the post-Ferguson era now and they are nowhere nearer to challenging – so stop talking about it and start creating something new.
Arteta given the chance Emery never had
I’m not saying this just to defend Unai Emery, but it has to be noted that there’s a huge difference between the appointments of Emery and Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. Unai Emery came with the aim of winning trophies for Arsenal, because he won trophies everywhere. He won the Europa Leagues for fun – so he was brought in to bring them that success. But Arteta came to create something. It’s a different thing and so the two managers had different kinds of pressure.
Creating something gives you extra time as a manager. You’ve got the backing of your board and they’re not going to sack you for losing three games in a row, because you’re creating something. You’re allowed to say ‘judge me in three years’. That’s an incredible platform for a coach, and it’s something we rarely get. That’s given Arteta the chance to create exactly what he wants, and you can see that, as an approach, it’s better. As a club, there’s an identity at Arsenal again.
Now it just depends on the quality they add to the team. What they’re really missing, following the sale of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the likely exit of Alexandre Lacazette in the summer, is a striker. Go out and get a guy who can take you that one step forward.
On the whole, Arsenal’s approach is very good, and everyone is starting to respect what they’re about now. Even if he wasn’t safe in his job at times, everyone is now beginning to understand this is a process, and it needed a lot of work. When you’re in that position, you have to accept that you’re not going to win for three or four years, but you want to see gradual improvements on the pitch every month, and that’s where the club is at now.
A top-four finish for Arsenal, all things considered this season, would be an amazing achievement for Mikel Arteta and his staff. I always explain to my owners when I’m at a club, that there are two ways of achieving success. Most people only see the one where the chairman is expected to spend money, but the other is to create an identity – and for the latter you need time. If you’re granted that time, as Arteta has been, sooner or later, you establish a solid relationship between manager, coaches and owners and everyone knows what is needed – and this is what Arsenal are doing now.
Arsenal are trying to get that fourth spot through progress, identity and hard work as a team, while Man United and Tottenham are constantly looking at players, new players, new coaches, repeating that cycle. We’ll see at the end of the season which method was right and which was wrong, but the only way Arsenal can sustain a challenge is through that togetherness and consistency.