For all the talk of which player will be going where as the transfer window creaks to a close, there can be little question that, for all the attention lavished upon player transfers, it is the appointment of a new manager that can truly be the existence-changing moment in the entire history of a football club. Consider, for example, the cases of Brian Clough at either Derby County or Nottingham Forest, Bill Shankly at Liverpool or Matt Busby at Manchester United. These cases, of course are the absolute zenith of this theory. They are men that reshaped our understanding of the clubs with which they became involved. The appointment of a new manager doesn’t, however, have to be an existence-altering event to have the most profound of effects upon a club, as Brighton & Hove Albion supporters have found over course of the year and nine months since the appointment of one Gustavo Augusto Poyet Dominguez as the manager of their club.
Sometimes, all it requires is for those running a football club to think, as it were, outside of the box for a while. Brighton & Hove Albion’s previous two managers, Mickey Adams and Russell Slade, were both stalwarts of the middle rankings of the Football League. The Football League is stuffed with managers like Adams and Slade, who flit from club to club, never really finding earth-shattering success, but seldom being so catastrophically awful that they subsequently become unemployable. Adams, in particular, even carried the air of being a conquering hero returning – his previous spell at Brighton saw them promoted from what was then called Division Three and only ended with his departure for the assistant manager’s job at Leicester City. This calibre of manager is hired to do a job, but this job is a fairly narrowly-defined one and there are a lot of them. They are, however, seldom considered to be much of a risk.
The appointment of Poyet, though, was a triumph of lateral thinking. It seems scarcely credible – but is nevertheless true – that this is his first full managerial position, having had spells as the Assistant Manager at Swindon Town, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur, but if his appointment had an element of being a shot in the dark about it, it has been vindicated by the startling success that he has achieved since joining the Seagulls. Having taken the club to safety in League One during his first season in charge, he took them up as the champions of League One at the end of last season – signing a new, four-year contract as manager in the process – and the signs for this season have been equally encouraging, with the only blot on the team’s record so far this season coming in the form of two dropped points at home against Blackpool last Saturday. His team even recovered from this “set-back” – and the phrase is to be used advisedly, and is really only relative to Brighton’s other results this season – to knock Premier League Sunderland out of the League Cup last night.
Just as importantly, in its own way, Poyet’s success with Brighton has had more than an element of being done “the right way” about it. His team plays attractive, attacking football and Poyet himself has carried himself with a demeanour that has reflected extremely positively upon Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club itself in a broader sense. If the club’s move into The American Express Community Stadium at Falmer was truly the beginning of a new era for the club – and there can be little doubt that it has been – then having a new manager, a smartly dressed South American who speaks English considerably more elegantly than even some British television pundits can manage, feels entirely apposite. If Adam, Slade and Withdean represented the old Albion, then Poyet and Falmer represent a brave new world, a bolder future in which the name of Brighton & Hove Albion is no longer synonymous with the word “crisis” or temporary stands in which those that have paid to get in are exposed to whatever the elements choose to hurl at them.
With success, however, come the vultures. West Ham United were reported as being circling during the summer and there will be others, should the success continue. As we have learnt from the recent tribulations in the transfer market for players, contractual obligations seem to count for less and less these days, and should Poyet continue to be successful in this particular job, there can be little doubt that other clubs will come calling again in the future. This, however, is the double-edged sword that a club the size of Brighton & Hove Albion faces. What are the supporters and the directors to hope for? Mediocrity, in the hope that it will scare away those that would seek to tempt Poyet from the club? Moreover, what is Poyet to say to allay those that are concerned that such an eventuality may come to pass? He would be foolish to categorically rule out any move at any point in the future, but some – at present, most likely only a tiny minority – would say, “Well, he would say that”, even if he were to pledge a life-long allegiance to the club now.
This sort of angst is, it could well be argued, the natural state of affairs for all bar a handful of clubs in the modern game. The predatory nature of modern football and the careerist culture that we inhabit dictates this, but for the time being Brighton & Hove Albion supporters are enjoying the ride and toasting their luck at obtaining a manager that has played a significant role in picking their club up, dusting it down and giving it a chance of a future that could yet end up being beyond their wildest dreams. We spend so much time reading about crises of varying magnitudes at so many clubs that it is, just occasionally, refreshing to look at a club at which an adventure is being played out that seems so unlikely to end badly. They might not know where this adventure will leave them, exactly, but there can be little doubt that the unofficial motto that the supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion have adopted in recent time certainly rings true at the moment: in Gus they trust.
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