Gus Poyet, One-on-One: "After I played against Chelsea for Spurs, I remember thinking, 'Oh, what have I done?'"
"I really don't want to lose my hair," admits Gus Poyet, and for the first time today, he's not smiling. FFT is half an hour into our meeting with the Brighton gaffer at the club's new £96m Amex Stadium on the outskirts of the city, and the man affectionately known as 'The Radio' has changed frequency so often, it was only a matter of time before the topic of baldness came up.
He explains: "I try to forget about football after training, like Ruud [Gullit] did at Chelsea, but I just can't switch off. I've started playing golf, but by the time I've stopped talking about the game we're on the 18th hole!"
The Uruguayan was first given the 'Radio' moniker by his Real Zaragoza team-mates for his insistence on reciting the previous match, and it remains as apt a nickname as you'll find in football. And thankfully, the ex-Chelsea and Spurs man greets every one of your questions with similar glee. We begin in the shadows of the French Alps, when a young midfield dynamo first tried, and failed, to make his name in Europe...
Honours and awards
- Spanish Copa del Rey (1994)
- UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (1995, 1998)
- Copa America (1995)
- European Super Cup (1998)
- FA Cup (2000)
You first came to Europe as a 20-year-old, Gus, yet you were back home within a year. Why didn't it work out in France and did you think you'd ever get the return over here?
Roy Trevana, Dartford
I could look for excuses or reasons - the team I played for [Grenoble] wasn't the greatest - but the truth is I didn't perform well. I wanted to stay and make a point, but it wasn't possible. I honestly thought it would be very hard to come back to Europe, but I got my bit of luck. People think being a pro footballer is about talent and hard work, but at some moment you need a bit of luck, and I got it at Zaragoza. There was a Uruguayan manager [Ildo Maniero] there and another Uruguayan player was coming over, and I got in with them and never looked back.
I don't know anything about Uruguay. Is it true you're all obsessed by barbecues?
Lucy Harris, Swansea
Yes, football and barbecues! The way we get together is like how the English do to go for a drink, but we do this for an asado [barbeque]. I have a very close group of friends and when we get together, we eat and eat while talking about life and football. Two or three people are always in charge of cooking the meat, but I'm useless! I love to do it here but you need the weather, people to cook it, and a lot of meat!
You were player of the tournament when Uruguay won the 1995 Copa America. Where do these achievements rank in your career?
Kieran Raynor, Geneva
First, I wasn't player of the tournament; I was player of the tournament in my position. I know in England a lot of fans prefer club over country, but this is not the case in Uruguay so to win this cup was incredible for everybody. We played 4-3-3 with me at left midfield. It wasn't my best position, but because of our quality upfront - Francescoli, Fonseca, Otero - the rest of us did the running, we gave them the ball, and they won us the Copa America. I was so proud.
I can't believe a player with your talent only won 26 caps, Gus. What's the story there?
Paul Arthur, via email
I did start late for Uruguay [aged 25], but I'll be honest, the team played the worst kind of football for my ability. I was lucky enough to play in club teams that kept hold of the ball, looked to put it wide and created opportunities for me to arrive late in the box. But it was very different for the Uruguay national team during my time: the football was very direct and it was all about giving the ball to the strikers. I had no chance to get in the box and that's why I only scored three goals. I didn't get any chances!
I'd love my own radio show, although I think I'd need a six-hour slot, daily!
If you hadn't made it in football, what do you think you'd be doing? Having seen you talk on TV, you're clearly comfortable in front of the microphone. Ever consider a media career?
Gareth Ford, via Facebook
I'm not called 'The Radio' for nothing! [laughs]; I'd love my own radio show, although I think I'd need a six-hour slot, daily! In all seriousness, I was studying to be an engineer, so that's probably what I'd have done. I like maths and trying to work out crazy problems. I was really into my studies and was going to do it at uni, until at 18 I realised I could be a footballer.
I remember you playing for Zaragoza against Arsenal in the 1995 Cup Winners' Cup Final when Nayim lobbed Seaman. What a goal! What did that win mean to the club and city?
D Felice, Rome
I've always said that at the Parc des Princes in Paris, they should put a plaque near the half-way line reading: 'Here Nayim scored the most incredible goal ever in the 119th minute', because no one will repeat what he did. I cried like a baby after that game and after we'd partied for 48 hours, the whole squad went out onto the [Zaragoza] pitch and we stood at the spot where Nayim kicked the ball. We tried to do it. Every single player. And then we tried again. No chance.
So what Nayim did made him special for me. I also thank Nayim because it was him who told me about English football. I remember him saying, "Don't try to score with your hand; Don't go down; Don't cheat…" He made me worried! But his advice helped a lot.
You joined Chelsea after seven years at Real Zaragoza. With all due respect to the Blues, weren't there bigger clubs of the time keen on you especially as you were going on a free?
Charles Baker, via Twitter
There were, but Chelsea came at the right time and made a firm offer. I could see something was building there and I wanted to be part of that. There was talk of other clubs being keen, Real Madrid being one as my team-mate [Fernando] Morientes had just joined them, and there was also a chance to go to Inter: supposedly it was either me or [Diego] Simeone, but there was nothing on the table when Chelsea came calling.
Inter would have been great, but I have to say English football was probably much better suited to my game.