Diego Poyet's emergence at Charlton has reportedly led to a host of top European clubs tracking the young midfielder. But is he worthy of such attention and could he be set to follow in his father's footsteps and play on the biggest stage? Ryan Parrish takes a closer look...
By Ryan Parrish - @ryanparrish1919
Last Updated: 17/04/14 10:45am
"I think it is one of the most difficult competitions in all the world. I have been in different countries and the most you can pick is four teams who could win the league. In the Championship, who is going to win the league? It is too difficult," said Gus Poyet during Brighton's 2012/13 campaign.
Now a top-flight boss with Sunderland, desperately fighting to avoid a return to the second tier, the task facing the Uruguayan has not eased. If Poyet can somehow consolidate the Black Cats' Premier League status, especially after defying the odds to reach a Wembley final earlier in 2014, he would become an instant hero on Wearside. The Poyet name is synonymous with Premier League football after a seven-year spell as a player in England with both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but regardless of how he fares in Sunderland's battle against the drop, it is another member of the Poyet household that could continue that trend.
Already reported to have attracted interest from the likes of Barcelona (prior to their recent transfer ban), Inter Milan, Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham United among others, Diego Poyet is making waves in the Championship just months after his first-team debut for Charlton Athletic. The 18-year-old has represented England at youth level, despite only making his bow for Charlton as a late substitute in January's FA Cup win over Oxford United, but he has since wasted no time in establishing himself as a regular fixture and a key cog in their midfield under both Chris Powell and new boss Jose Riga.
Poyet operates as a deep-lying midfielder, protecting his defence by using his physical presence and razor-sharp reading of the game to break up play. He averages more interceptions (2.8 per game) of any Charlton player to have featured more than 10 times this season, while his 3.9 tackles per game also sits him at the top of those with the same criteria. Also noticeable is his constant want to have the ball at his feet and a maturity above his years when he does, keeping things simple but with a hint of South American flair and the ability to pick out a cross-field pass when required. The youngster averages 47.3 passes per game and his 83.5 per cent success rate - again, both are more than any of his team-mates to have played more than 10 times in the league this season - is indicative of his role in the side.
Poyet has a handful of England appearances at Under 16 and U17 level, who he captained, but he is also eligible to play for Spain - having been born in Zaragoza - as well as Uruguay, who his dad represented 26 times. On that topic, Poyet jnr said: "I consider myself English but if Uruguay were to come and the opportunity arose, I would not say no." The speed at which he is growing certainly makes that a plausible dilemma in the not too distant future.
Poyet had been attracting glowing reports after a string of impressive displays in the youth team for some time prior to his Charlton debut, but few could have expected him to have made such an immediate impression. In fact, it speaks volumes that he has already earned the trust of the new manager, Riga, to maintain his place in the team amid an influx of loan arrivals. It comes as no surprise, then, that his Twitter mentions are flooded with Charlton fans clamouring for the youngster to commit his long-term future to the club with his current deal set to expire in the summer.
While consolidating their Championship status remains Charlton's immediate priority, the contract situation of their brightest young star rumbles on. "We have our eyes very open on this," said Riga last month. "I'm sure the environment and family of Charlton will always make sure he receives good advice. He feels good here and with the way we are trying to play, he is happy." Poyet may indeed be happy, but his dad has lofty ambitions. "It would be a spectacle to see my son Diego at Barcelona," he said of the Spanish giants' reported interest. Their transfer ban appears to put that possibility on ice, but the vultures will continue to circle if early performance levels are maintained.
It would seem almost unthinkable for Charlton to slip back into League One so soon, and while that remains a distinct possibility, a couple of Poyet-inspired results have offered hope. A stand-out display in the 1-0 win over the early-season title favourites, but now faltering, Queens Park Rangers, truly announced his arrival at The Valley as his crucial tackle led to Johnnie Jackson's late winner following an assured afternoon in which he dominated Harry Redknapp's midfield. Only Addicks full-back Lawrie Wilson (12) made more tackles than Poyet, whose nine was still three times more than anyone in the star-studded QPR side, that afternoon.
It was a performance which led Powell to hail Poyet as an "all-round midfielder," a phrase oft-used to describe his father during his playing days. "Diego is the one who will break attacks up and start them," Powell continued. "He is certainly showing that he is capable of playing at this level." By this point, Poyet's place was just about cemented in the Charlton midfield and that remained the case even after Riga replaced Powell in March. Charlton's next league win after the QPR game came in a similar vein - a late goal sealing the three points against Bournemouth - and Poyet put in an equally combative and composed performance. The youngster's 93% passing accuracy was equal to anyone who played the full 90 minutes that night and his tally of six interceptions was double that of anybody else on the pitch.
Under the watchful eye of his dad, who was in attendance at Elland Road, Poyet shone again in Charlton's 1-0 win over Leeds United. He did owe a debt of gratitude to Ben Hamer, who saved the stoppage time penalty he conceded, but for the 90 minutes that preceded his dubious foul on Aidan White, the youngster pretty much ran the show at his own pace. Poyet dictated play from the off, unfazed by the historic surroundings or the mounting pressure on his side as his 63 touches of the ball was more than anyone on the winning team and he also made two interceptions. Leeds' own midfield prodigy, Alex Mowatt, could not get close and pulling Poyet's flowing locks proved the only way to stop his tracks. He was that good. As Charlton were awarded a free-kick and Mowatt was carded, the pair laughed it off, but this was as true a reflection as any of the difference in class between Poyet and those in white on the night.
Apologies to everyone for my performance today. Not good enough.- Diego Poyet (@diegopoyet7) April 12, 2014
Poyet impressed again in the 3-2 win over Yeovil, although successive defeats to Brighton & Hove Albion and Barnsley mean that plenty of work is still to be done to secure Charlton's survival. Poyet was brutally honest in his assessment of his own performance at Brighton (see Tweet above), but he showed signs of a return to form against the Tykes with his 79% pass accuracy proving to be more than anyone on the pitch before he was replaced late on. The occasional dip in performance can be forgiven when age and experience is taken into account, and Poyet has endeared himself to the understanding Charlton fans who have been unequivocal in their appreciation of him, despite recent results.
If the Championship is as tough as his dad claims, then the speed at which Diego Poyet has taken to it suggests a more than prosperous career lies ahead. Whether he is ready to make the step up in divisions just yet remains to be seen, but it does appear to be a matter of time before the Premier League is joined by another Poyet.