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POY'S BRIGADE; THE BIG Interview Dave Kidd talks to Brighton manager Gus Poyet.

ELEVEN years ago, Gus Poyet led out the most controversial team ever to take the field in a Premier League match.

It was Boxing Day 1999 when Chelsea whipped up an almighty storm by becoming the first English club to name a starting line-up of 11 foreigners.

Debate raged about the future of English football, with Poyet and his team frequently branded as mercenaries.

Few would have imagined that Poyet would become a fixture in English football - following his old Chelsea team-mates Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola into management in their adopted homeland.

And you certainly will not find many Brighton fans complaining about the foreign influx which brought in their Uruguayan boss.

Poyet is celebrating one year in charge of the Seagulls - having led them from the relegation zone to the League One summit, thanks to a brand of free-flowing football rarely seen in the lower leagues.

But he can still clearly recall feeling rather less welcome in English football.

Poyet said: "I was the captain that day at Southampton because Dennis Wise was out. It was quite funny because I didn't realise we had 11 foreigners in the team.

"We came out of the dressing room and there were so many more photographers than usual and someone said to me 'we are 11 foreigners'.

"I said 'oh my God, we must win now - if we don't, we are going to get killed - and we did win'.

"When you are in football, it doesn't matter where your teammates come from but in a country like England, it was very strange to see that. Now it would seem quite normal.

"We had a strong bond with English football, though. And, for me, it's easier to manage in the country where you've finished your career. I had seven years playing for Chelsea and Spurs."

Di Matteo has excelled at West Brom while Zola wants to return to management here despite his sacking by West Ham.

But Poyet could turn out to be the best of the bunch, judging by his first 12 months.

After coaching jobs with Wise at Swindon and Leeds as well as Juande Ramos at Tottenham, Poyet took the plunge last year with a club threatened by relegation to the Football League basement.

Brave

Poyet said: "Franco and Roberto went directly into management and that was brave - I told them that. I like it the way I did it because I saw things from the inside without being manager.

"When I started with Dennis I was not 100 per cent sure I wanted to be a No.1, but when I was sacked with Juande at Spurs, I made a decision to be No.1. I need to be making the decisions.

"Getting sacked showed me what football is like.

It doesn't matter whether you won the League Cup a few months ago, it doesn't matter how much you are being paid, if you have a few bad results you are history. That's the reality. I accept that.

"I try to aim high and I want to manage at the very top. Hopefully here, otherwise to go to a Premier League club, without a doubt. I'm only 42 and I have only been a manager for one year.

"It's like if a player is doing very, very well for us but the club is not moving up, he will leave - and it is the same with the manager.

"I want to move up with this club - but the dream of every boss is to be like Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger and stay in one place for a long time and be successful.

"Jose Mourinho is the Special One because he can win the title in four countries.

"The main thing for most bosses is to stay at a club for many, many years - then you have a strong identity, the club has a strong identity, plays well and wins a lot.

"One thing is sure, my future lies in England, the same as my kids."

Poyet's hopes of progress will be aided by

Brighton's new 22,500-seater stadium at Falmer, which is rapidly taking shape and will be ready for the start of next season.

He said: "Everyone was talking about the new stadium but I didn't even have a contract for that long until this summer.

"Now I have a four-year deal, we are working on a development squad and with the academy and building a club, not just a team.

"We've got money to build the stadium and we've got a top-six budget in this division, but some people seem to think we are going to start buying players like Chelsea or Manchester City and that is not the case.

Hearts

"The fans deserve a lot of credit. They had to go to Gillingham for home matches and then watch at the Withdean Stadium, which has never been a good place to watch football. They deserve what is coming next year."

As for Brighton's eye-catching style, Poyet admits he had to work hard to win hearts and minds.

He said: "As a player and a coach, I decided what I think is the best way to play football. It's not a matter of right and wrong. You can play the most beautiful football and be unsuccessful.

"I'm convinced it is possible to succeed playing our style in this division, but it is more difficult to be consistent this way.

"When you play the ball into the box 100 times you play directly, it is easier but I don't understand football like that.

"There are still people who think my way is not the right way but they should be brave and say it's wrong now while we are clear at the top of the table, rather than if we lose two or three games!"

FOREIGN LEGION: Gus Poyet (third from right) with the first non-British XI (from left) Albert Ferrer, Didier Deschamps, Celestine Babayaro, Dan Petrescu, Roberto Di Matteo, Tore Andre Flo and keeper Ed de Goey. They started alongside (inset from left) Emerson Thome, Gabriele Ambrosetti and Frank Leboeuf in the 2-1 victory at Southampton, with Flo netting twice

CAPTION(S):

LEADING THE WAY: Ex-West Ham boss Zola and West Brom chief Di Matteo SO NEAR, SO FALMER: Brighton's new home will open next season I SPY...THE BIG TIME: Gus Poyet is keen to follow his old Chelsea pals and manage a Premier League club
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 14, 2010
Words:1073
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