For most with an interest in the story, the small matter of Brighton & Hove Albion vs Gus Poyet has now become little more than a matter of “Who do you believe?” That Poyet will be leaving the club has hardly even been so much as an open secret since the end of last season, and as time has worn on the sense of stasis in terms of whatever has been going on between the manager and the club has only added to the belief that the relationship between the directors of the club and its manager have long since become severed beyond the point of repair. Yet this evening the club managed a PR own goal of such spectacular proportions that it is difficult to believe that anybody could have considered that it was a good idea.
Gus Poyet has been informed today by Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club’s internal disciplinary panel that his employment has been terminated with immediate effect. This followed his suspension, an investigation, and a subsequent formal disciplinary process. In line with the club’s own procedures, and UK employment law, Mr Poyet now has a right of appeal. As such, the club will make no further comment on this matter or recent LMA statements at this time.
The club presumably believes that it is in the right over this matter, of that there can be no doubt. The timing of the statement, however, could hardly have been much worse. Poyet has been working for the BBC as a pundit during their coverage of the Confederations Cup, and it so happened that he is on duty this evening, for the match between Uruguay and Tahiti. It came, therefore, as no great surprise that their studio guest’s fresh dismissal from his other job was the main topic conversation at half-time during a match that gone as predictably as most would have expected, and Poyet’s claim to not have already been made aware of this situation will doubtlessly take up a considerable amount of coverage on the back page of newspapers tomorrow morning.
Setting to one side the small matter of whether Poyet was being entirely truthful in his hastily-scheduled interview on the programme that he was already a guest on, this is a spectacularly terrible piece of public relations by the club itself. Not only did they issue their statement on a Sunday evening in the middle of a summer when it has rather felt as if the fourth estate has been scrabbling around in search of whatever football stories it can find, but they also managed to issue it when the manager was due to appear on the BBC and would be able to instantly issue a rebuttal in the public domain which would not exactly cover the club in glory. Just waiting another twenty-four hours would have allowed for the club to minimise this collateral damage. Would Poyet be so stupid as to lie about having been told about what had happened over the course of the day? It’s difficult to believe that he would, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to argue that it looks as if somebody is.
It has been suggested that the decision to make this announcement wasn’t any great surprise because the Brighton players meet tomorrow for the start of their pre-season training. Whilst it would obviously be desirable to be starting the new pre-season with a clean slate, it should be perfectly obvious to anybody watching this situation by now that there is going to be no clean slate as far as this story is concerned. It is likely that, unless some sort of settlement is agreed between the two parties, that the matter will end up before an employment tribunal. It is obvious and understandable that Brighton need a new manager, so why does the club seem to be giving the impression of acting as if it wishes to make life as difficult for itself as it can over this dispute? Might the club have been hoping that he would say something injudicious ahead of whatever happens next? It’s a story that now seems set to run and run.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, the perception will, by tomorrow morning, have entered into the public consciousness that the club is behaving pretty badly over this matter, coming as it does on the heels of a less than complimentary statement from the League Managers Association on the subject last week. Delaying the announcement until tomorrow morning would at least denied Poyet the opportunity to respond in kind to a national audience and create the air of doubt that now hangs over the club’s credibility with regard to this story. If Gus Poyet has been seeking to destabilise the club – and if it turns out that he was lying about this, it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to argue that he was – then the club could easily have played its hand more smartly than it seems to have done, by putting back the announcement by just twenty-four hours, if nothing else.
The technicalities of employment law notwithstanding, the club’s reputation is clearly damaged this evening because people will take Poyet at his word, whether he was telling the truth this evening or not. Perhaps the club was concerned that Poyet would be the one making announcement tonight, and that they felt that they had to be the first to issue a statement on the matter. If that was the case, then it might have been advisable for the club to word the statement differently to the way in which it did, because as things stand, regardless of who was lying and who was telling the truth, it is the reputation of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club that has been hit this evening to the extent that it feels as if the progress that the club has made over the last three or four years may be starting to become undone.
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