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Why the FA Cup is still special for Gus Poyet

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Chris Bevan | 07:36 UK time, Friday, 22 January 2010

At Brighton Health and Racquets Club in Falmer

A charge often levelled at foreign players and managers in England is that they don't fully embrace the FA Cup, that they view it in the same way that domestic knockout tournaments are seen in many other countries - as a second-class competition.

Given the high number of imports into our game, on the pitch and in the dug-out, it is a worrying outlook. And one that could be used to partially explain why the competition has lost some of its lustre in recent years.

But I don't believe it is totally true. For a start, British bosses are just as likely to field second-string teams in the Cup as their counterparts of different nationalities - Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp and Hull manager Phil Brown were just two examples in the third round earlier this month - and who could forget what Hitchin-born Stoke striker Dave Kitson had to say about the merits of the competition when he played for Reading in 2008?

In fact, it is rare to hear anyone speaking about the Cup with unbridled enthusiasm these days - which is why I enjoyed meeting up with Brighton boss Gus Poyet so much last week.

Argentine duo Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa are probably the first names that spring to mind when you think of South Americans who have been touched by the magic of the Cup, but, as I found out, Poyet feels exactly the same way.

Villa (left) and Ardiles (right) with Spurs boss Keith BurkinshawRicky Villa (left) and Osvaldo Ardiles (right) helped Spurs lift the FA Cup in 1981

It is 10 years since the Uruguayan, then a prolific goalscoring midfielder, got his hands on the famous old trophy after helping an expensively-assembled and multinational Chelsea side beat Aston Villa. On Saturday, he will face Villa again, this time as a novice manager of a struggling League One side.

His circumstances may have changed but one thing has remained the same over the course of the last decade: Poyet's passion for the FA Cup still burns brightly. "It's always been special to me," he told me. "No disrespect to the King of Spain but the Coppa del Rey, along with the Coppa Italia and Coupe de France don't really matter. The FA Cup is the only one in Europe that has got any real prestige."

That status is under threat, however, with many top-flight clubs preferring to focus on Champions League qualification or Premier League survival. It's been affected by a gradual change of priorities in English football that Poyet has seen firsthand since arriving at Stamford Bridge in June 1997, a month after Chelsea ended a 27-year wait for silverware by winning the Cup.

"Back then, it was a big deal and it was the start of Chelsea's journey to where they are now," he explained. "But now I feel people don't pay it enough attention. It has lost some of its importance because of the Champions League and doesn't get the attention it deserves."

Why does Poyet love the Cup so much? It is partly down to happy memories of his contribution to that triumph in 2000. He was the competition's top scorer that season with six goals, bagging his only hat-trick in English football in a 6-1 third-round rout of Hull, adding another in a narrow 2-1 fifth-round win over Leicester and, crucially, scoring both goals in a tense semi-final success over Newcastle.

But his appreciation is also down to his grasp of the heritage of the world's oldest knockout tournament and the traditions that he first witnessed on TV after coming to Europe to play for French side Nice in 1988.

"The biggest thing for me was always seeing Wembley, with the red carpet, the manager leading the team out on to the pitch with a flower in his suit and shaking hands with royalty," Poyet added.

"When I came to England, I thought maybe I will be lucky enough to get there once - and I was. Our final against Villa was one of the worst ever, but the only thing that mattered was being on the winning team.

"That final was the last one at the old Wembley, and I am very proud to have been part of the last team to have won the Cup there. It was a unique and very special day for me and totally different to going to the new Wembley, which is too similar to other big new stadiums. It's one of my best moments in football."

Poyet is an engaging character and his enthusiasm for the game is obvious, even when he spoke to me at the end of what had been a long and testing day. Brighton's usual training venue at the University of Sussex in Falmer has been unusable for most of 2010 because of deep snow, and Poyet's car got stuck as he tried to drive from a local pitch that was playable in order to fulfil his media commitments.

While they wait for their new stadium to be completed, the Seagulls use a public fitness club to feed and water their players after training, and it was a strange sight watching their squad and staff file past oblivious gym-goers, parent-toddler groups and tennis players, who were relaxing in the bar, while I waited for Poyet to arrive.

Gus Poyet is going it alone at BrightonPoyet says the FA Cup still has real prestige

It is difficult to imagine Aston Villa's collection of international superstars having to do the same, and the gulf between the two clubs is such that Poyet feels winning at Villa Park on Saturday is an almost unimaginable feat.

"They are in the top six of the Premier League, we are at the bottom of League One," Poyet, who watched Martin O'Neill's side draw with West Ham on Sunday, said. "There is a big difference and, if they are at their best, it is going to be practically impossible for us to win.

"If not, maybe we will have a chance. But what we have to do is make sure that we are at our best. Everyone will expect Villa to go through, and, realistically, they probably will, but I want everybody at the club to enjoy the day and who knows what might happen."

The odds are certainly against Brighton, but Poyet's presence at least gives their fans some hope. After all, he has something of a midas touch when it comes to cups.

While playing in Spain, he won the Copa del Rey (King's Cup) with Real Zaragoza in 1994 and was part of the team that beat Arsenal in the final of the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1995 - when Nayim famously beat David Seaman from the halfway line - before helping Uruguay beat then-world champions Brazil to win the Copa America that summer.

At Chelsea, as well as that win over Villa, he returned from a long injury to score a vital goal against Vicenza in the semi-final of the Cup Winners' Cup in 1998, and scored the winner against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup at the start of the following campaign, thus securing the last European trophy to arrive at Stamford Bridge.

He has not collected quite so much silverware since turning to coaching, working as an assistant, firstly to Dennis Wise - at Swindon and Leeds - and then to Juande Ramos during the Spaniard's brief reign at Tottenham, although he was part of one notable triumph when Spurs won the 2008 Carling Cup.

After leaving Tottenham when Ramos was sacked later that year, Poyet had a year out of football, a spell during which he says there were "plenty of rumours about jobs but nothing happened" before taking his first management post with Brighton at the start of November 2009. "I was excited by the chairman, the city and the club," he said.

Poyet is still settling into his new role - results have been mixed since his appointment - but he is relishing his responsibilities and feels the biggest difference to being a number two is that, in the past, he had to accept his opinion might be ignored. Now he gets to make all the decisions himself, although he says he is never slow to ask for other people's advice.

"I am more open than Dennis and Juande. I still have the final say, but I ask my assistant (former Ipswich and Spurs full-back Mauricio Taricco) many, many questions. The more information you have, the easier it is to make a decision."

Brighton's league form is slowly turning round - they are unbeaten in three league games since 19 December and lie 19th in the table - but, perhaps unsurprisingly given his record, Poyet has had more joy in the Cup, steering Brighton into the fourth round for the first time since 1993.

So, is there a secret behind his success in knockout games? "I would just say I've been lucky," added Poyet with a grin. "I was never able to play in a team that was capable of winning a championship. Not in Spain, not with Chelsea when we were close but not close enough, and with Spurs.

"But I have been fortunate enough to be at clubs that won cups. I always thought going into those competitions that anything is possible, and if you believed you could win, we would. It is different to playing for Chelsea when you are manager of Brighton and draw Villa away, but it is a Cup game and I will still enjoy it, whatever the result."

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  • Comment number 1.

    On the off chance the financial buble does burst for the present PL teams (and the likes of Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn and heavens knows who drop down the division) Brighton is one of those clubs that could (not will, could) be ready to take advantage over the next 5 years. Poyet and the new stadium are key, the latter is apparently paid for (although one suspects a debt to the present owner exists) so that leaves Gus to prove his worth. Leeds United fans long suspected that Poyet was the real drive behind the 2007-08 run of form that began after the administration decacle. Next season will be the test for Brighton.

  • Comment number 2.

    "British bosses are just as likely to field second-string teams in the Cup ... Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp and Hull manager Phil Brown were just two examples in the third round."


    The Spurs starting line-up against Peterborough read: Gomes, Hutton, Dawson, Bassong, Bale, Modric, Huddlestone, Palacios, Kranjcar, Defoe and Keane.

    The only obvious omission was Aaron Lennon through injury.

    In interviews after the match, Harry was even complimented on his commitment to the Cup and he stated: "I put a good team out to win the game.

    "You don't want to take liberties and winning is a good habit. I didn't want to put a weak team out and turn in a sloppy performance and then regret it afterwards."

    He went on to say how it would be nice to see a team outside the big four triumph in the Cup again and, after his exploits with Portsmouth two years ago, it is clear that Redknapp takes this competition very seriously. Spurs fans should expect to see another full-strength team face League One leaders Leeds tomorrow.

  • Comment number 3.

    it will be intersting to see how far Gus can take brighton givien that they didnt look very good against Rushden in the 2nd round of the FA Cup

  • Comment number 4.

    Come on you Seagulls!!

  • Comment number 5.

    Nice article Chris. As a long-time Chelsea fan with a soft spot for my local team, Brighton, I was really pleased to see Gus get the Seagulls job. He always comes across as a really decent guy.
    I'm hoping he's as successful as a manager as he was as a player. Best of luck Gus!

  • Comment number 6.

    the whole idea that the fa cup is second rate or comparable to other domestic cups is rubbish, of course the league will always come first, maybe not for lesser teams who have no chance to win the league but you only have to look at the two league cup semi finals to realise that fans and players DO care. the FA Cup is as special as ever.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Brighton have been playing a lot better away than at home this season, so I really fancy their chances of getting a replay. But the priority right now is survival, as Brighton are still in a dangerous position. I think they will survive, but they can't get complacent as it was very tight last year and only a great run of form in the last few matches saved them. Once Falmer Stadium is completed and Brighton has a true home for the foreseeable future, I see no reason why they shouldn't be able to get back into the Championship and start challenging for the play-offs within a couple of years. The fanbase is there, the history is there (even if it's only one FA Cup final which they could and perhaps should have won), and the talent is more often than not there in abundance. I see good times ahead for Brighton and Hove Albion.

  • Comment number 9.

    Strange - all I said was up the Villa and that their team hadn't been announced yet. In fact I hope the Brighton match is not insulted by a second string of Villa players, but I also find it insulting my original comments should break the house rules.

  • Comment number 10.

    Mr Christopher... (post 2)

    Sorry but I have to disagree. I'm sure Redknapp would like to win the Cup but he has made it clear where it lies in his priorities:

    Redknapp made FIVE changes for the Cup game from Spurs' previous league match, saying in his programme notes for the clash with Posh that he was "fortunate to have the luxury of being able to bring in players that don't weaken our side".

    Now, he may say that, but do you believe him? He's hardly going to say anything else is he!?

    Tottenham are a big club with a massive squad and I'm sure whatever team Harry picks to face Leeds on Saturday will be packed with internationals, the same as it was against Peterborough. And, whoever plays, I'm sure you'll agree that they should beat Leeds - bearing in mind that they are playing a League One club.

    But, of course, it's the Cup and, as Man Utd found out against Leeds in the last round, if you take it lightly (like Sir Alex Ferguson did by fielding a completely new midfield) you run the risk of being caught out.

    Spurs are a team with a famous Cup pedigree and I just think it's sad to see their manager admit they are not really bothered about the competition. I admit Harry Redknapp has made some statements to the contrary but he has also said (and more importantly done!) enough to convince me otherwise.

    5/ benny__kafka. Yep Gus is a top bloke - after the day he'd had I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd wanted to get home as quickly as possible (I was the last journalist to speak to him after he had dealt with local press, radio and TV). But he was happy to chat away and was still cracking jokes even as I said goodbye.

    8/ BulletMonkey I think that you're right... the club's potential is the biggest reason Gus took the job. He told me he did want to manage in Spain one day but not yet, and he sees himself being at Brighton for a few years to come.

  • Comment number 11.

    9. At 5:22pm on 22 Jan 2010, carrie wrote:
    Strange - all I said was up the Villa and that their team hadn't been announced yet.

    That's exactly why it was removed. It had absolutely nothing to do with the article.

  • Comment number 12.

    Looking forward to saturday. I dont believe Brighton will win but i think they are in with a shout of grabbing a replay. Then Brigthon will have a great chance with villa in the portacabin changing rooms and bobbly pitch of the withdean. Brigton do have a good record against premier leadgue clubs there at the withdean. That is what will be missed when Brighton move into there new stadium in the future

  • Comment number 13.

    Is this the same Gus Poyet who said before his third round game that he would prefer 3 points in the league when interviewed on TalkSport?

  • Comment number 14.

    When oh when will the Media stop blathering?

    It's YOU, the media, who slate the FA Cup and go on and on about MilanBarcelonaWhatever. And then YOU, the media, who tell us that WE are no longer interested in the FA Cup.

    Actually it gets a bit tired to hear "People care more about the Champions League".

    Which people?

    The media. Sure.

    The Sky 4 and their army of plastic fans. Sure.

    But for the majority of English football fans, the Champions League is about as interesting a subject as 'Who won the Vice-Presidency in Bolivia in 1932'!

    The FA Cup is still about real teams. And fixtures between clubs that really matter.

    YOU might want to report that, for a change, if you want to stand out as a journalist.....

  • Comment number 15.

    Chrisbevan (post 10)

    You say Redknapp made 5 changes from the previous game - 3 of these were due to injuries (Assou-Ekotto has not played since December) and Keane for Crouch is clearly only the rotation of what Redknapp sees as 3 first choice strikers. Keane is still team captain. The only change for a second choice player was Hutton for Corluka. It seems you made a sweeping statement without really thinking about it and it does not encourage me to read the rest of what could be an interesting article.


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