From Charlton and West Ham to Argentina and Cyprus, Diego Poyet tells Sky Sports about his unusual career path – and why he’s optimistic about the future…
When Diego Poyet left Charlton in the summer of 2014, having helped them to Championship safety and won the club’s player of the year award barely four months after making his debut, the teenager looked set for the top.
But four years on, the former England U18 is rebuilding his career away from the microcosm of football in this country.
After two years of stagnation at West Ham and a hellish six months in Argentina, Poyet is finally reigniting a career that promised plenty and stepping out of his father Gus’ shadow by starring in the Cypriot First Division for Paphos.
It wasn’t the path he pictured taking as a Charlton academy ace, splitting his time between developing through the youth system and watching his father shine in the Premier League. But the 23-year-old is happy to be back on track and excited about the future.
“Pathos had a new manager, new players, so I thought let’s just go for it and signed for a year to get my head straight after Argentina,” Poyet told Sky Sports. “That was very important for me, to have no distractions. It’s been better for Argentina, that’s for sure!
“As you see with my last moves I am open to new experiences but if something comes up in the UK then I’m all for it.”
As a teenager, Poyet played for England youth sides before eventually making his debut for Charlton aged 18, having joined the club six years previously.
The Valley was not an ideal place to be at that time. The club were in a relegation battle and controversial owner Roland Duchatelet had just taken over – and he quickly removed Chris Powell after he handed Poyet his debut. New manager Jose Riga arrived and the club were saved from relegation, with Poyet earning plenty of praise in the process.
“People say ‘it must have been hard starting off with a team bottom of the league’ but I love a challenge,” Poyet says, recalling those early days of his career. “Being bottom of the table in the Championship and going straight in is quite hard to do but I would rather do that than being 21 or 22 and being nowhere near the first team in the Premier League because the club can just buy a new player.
“In the Championship or League One you have more chances as a young player, especially if you’ve been at the club a long time and you’ve earned the trust of the manager, respect of the players and the people at the club and they know what you can do.”
Despite his success on the pitch, Charlton were slow to try to tie down the out-of-contract Poyet to a new deal, making him wonder about his worth at a club where he had grown up.
“After about three or four weeks they contacted me and I wasn’t really pleased with the offer they gave me. I’d been at the club six or seven years and had a close relationship with a lot of the players and the offer made me feel under-appreciated, considering how long I’d been at the club and I’d just won player of the year.
“There was a discussion where they weren’t going to make another offer. I was a free agent and I told them to forget about it and I wasn’t going to turn up to pre-season, I was going to look for another option. That is how I ended up leaving a club that I had a lot of admiration and love for. I spent a lot of time there. It was my hometown as well and I ended up leaving in a way where most people don’t know the truth.
“The contract was offered, I said I wasn’t happy with it and then they started throwing in things like a loan move to Standard Liege and this and that. I wondered if they wanted me at Charlton why they would offer for me to go out on loan somewhere. It ended in not a nice way but it is what it is and I’m sure it’s happened to a lot of players.”
A desire to stay in London meant West Ham’s offer was the most attractive to the teenage midfielder who was looking for a place to blossom in the Premier League. Sam Allardyce was the man who gave him a four-year deal but he would only make three Premier League appearances for the club in his first season.
During his time in East London he would go out on three separate loan spells and play in five Europa League qualifiers under Allardyce’s replacement Slaven Bliic, but it was not a period Poyet enjoyed.
“The first season under Allardyce I felt I would have to suck it up, get used to it and then in my second season we had the Europa League qualifiers with Bilic and I played in them, so I felt that the manager was showing faith in me, I did quite well, we had a penalty shootout and took one, so after about a year I felt part of the team.
“I was being patient, I showed I wanted to be there but when we went out of Europe, Bilic was honest with me and said my chances would be limited and if I wanted to go out on loan I should just go.”
After loan spells at MK Dons and back at Charlton, Poyet reported back for his third summer at West Ham to be told by Bilic he could leave the club. The midfielder decided he did not want to see out the final two seasons of his contract.
“A lot of people would have stayed but I get frustrated very easily so if the manager says that to me, I feel like there’s no real way of winning someone’s trust back,” said Poyet. “I rang my agent, I told him to get me out of there, I didn’t care about anything, I just wanted to leave and sign somewhere else. I didn’t want to be somewhere I wasn’t wanted, I didn’t care how long it took.
“I was made to feel like a pest – I would turn up to training and I would know the staff didn’t want me there. I’d go into training and no matter how well I did there was no reward.
“I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t be waiting on the manager to be sacked, as that means you don’t want your team-mates to do well and I’m not that type of person. I don’t want my team-mates to do badly so the manager gets sacked and I get an opportunity, I always want them to do well.”
After being offered moves to Derby County and Rangers, Poyet took the more extreme decision to join Godoy Cruz in Argentina but nothing went right for Poyet in South America – and a ruling on foreign signings left him illegible to play in the league.
“I decided to move across the world to play,” he explains. “In Argentina you can only have four foreigners at a time for each season. The club I signed for already had four players but a Uruguayan striker was set to leave the day after I arrived. He was their star striker but he went to do his medical and failed.
“It got out in the news, so the other three players occupying the international player slots didn’t want to leave. So no one was going to sign the striker and I was left as the fifth player.
“I was there for six months and could only play in the Copa Libertadores, where you can register new players for that but not for the league.
“It was a nightmare, it was the worst time of my life. I was in Argentina, living by myself, training week in, week out and for six months I could only wait for the Copa Libertadores.
“When it came around, the manager was hesitant to play me as I hadn’t played a game in months and had to decide if he wanted to play a player who hasn’t played and isn’t match fit. It was a nightmare for me. I struggled on and off the pitch, as I was struggling to play and I was away from home for the first time properly, so it was a very hard time for me.”
Last summer, Poyet found salvation after being tested by his time in Argentina by joining Cypriot side Paphos, who are managed by former Coventry boss Steven Pressley.
“People were saying ‘he’s moving around too much’, so I ended up going up to a new club in Cyprus, who had signed 30-odd players, all from different places.
“I was sat at home in England calling my agent three or four times a day – I must have driven him crazy. It’s been better than Argentina, that’s for sure.”
The standard of football in Cyprus has surprised and impressed Poyet, who feels he is just thankful to be back playing regularly as he looks to prove to himself and those around him that he is his own man, something he has proved about making difficult decisions about his own career.
Pressley arrived in Cyprus a month after Poyet, reminding the midfielder what he misses about the country he was brought up in and the football there.
“I think he [Pressley] has had to adapt but he has brought that British mentality – he has coached in League One and at top clubs – and he has brought that into our team, which has been great for us. Him coming with his staff has been massive for me.
“When they came I called my dad and said ‘they’re making me miss England so much!’ because this is what I am used to, at Charlton and West Ham, that atmosphere, the training intensity and even just speaking English. It has made me miss home and what I am used to.”
Not one scared of bold moves, Poyet might need to consider another in the summer, and really could end up anywhere if he decides against staying with Paphos.
His dad, now managing Bordeaux, is always at the end of the phone if he needs advice but Poyet Jnr has seen the good and the bad of football and isn’t fearful of what might come next as he continues his pursuit of his dream to reach the top.