By Tom Marshall-Bailey
After Ellis Short terminated Paolo Di Canio’s brief and controversy-laden tenure, Sunderland fans must be praying they are not in store for more of the same once Gus Poyet begins his salvage operation at the Stadium of Light.
Helping the bottom-of-the-table Black Cats avoid a relegation dogfight this season will be the sternest test yet of the burgeoning reputation Poyet has earned himself following a successful spell at Brighton.
Having rescued the club from League Two, Poyet left the Seagulls in an unrecognisable state to that which he found them in when he took over four years ago, with the club now plying their trade in the Championship in their plush new Amex Stadium.
Brighton were transformed not just off the pitch but on it too. Controlling the ball, making the pitch as wide as possible and dictating play from inside their own half were hallmarks of the possession-based ethos Poyet implemented. "If you have the ball, you can't lose,” was a mantra that reaped significant rewards and plaudits.
Poyet’s primary challenges will be to make his mark on the playing style and to shake off any lingering comparisons with the man he replaces, but the 45-year-old can certainly take heart from the way in which his new players have rallied around caretaker manager Kevin Ball.
At Brighton, Poyet made sure the likes of Inigo Calderon, David Lopez and Leonardo Ulloa were integrated into the sort of tightly-knit dressing room he is unlikely to inherit at Sunderland, although Ball’s caretaker spell in charge suggests team spirit is not damaged beyond repair.
Lee Cattermole's renaissance under Ball could help the former Middlesbrough enforcer stake a claim for Poyet's defensive midfield slot as he looks to implement his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation, with Jozy Altidore likely to provide the physical spearhead up front, akin to Ulloa's role in a hard-working Seagulls outfit.
Sunderland's director of football Roberto De Fanti was the catalyst behind Poyet's success in landing the post, and given the substantial rapport he built up with various members of his former playing squad, the hope is that this can be transferred across to help diffuse any divisive relationships on Wearside following Di Canio's ill-fated reign.
Former Spain star Vicente may have accused Poyet of being "unprofessional, egotistical and a bully" – traits that might set alarm bells ringing in the north east - but, crucially, his was a lone, dissenting voice amongst the playing staff, at least.
Though Poyet had slowly begun to outgrow Albion, touting himself to larger clubs in the belief he had taken the Amex Stadium outfit as far as he could, ultimately his Brighton exit was undignified and unbefitting of someone who had served the club so well.
Egotistical, borderline arrogant and single-minded he might be, but it would be unkind in the extreme to label him as a Di Canio clone.
The former Chelsea and Tottenham midfielder will delight and frustrate supporters in equal measure with his attention-seeking demeanour and maverick methods, but if he is afforded the time and patience Di Canio was not receive, then he is well capable of ensuring Sunderland retain their Premier League status.