Sunderland's search for a successor to Paolo Di Canio is over, with Gus Poyet understood to have agreed a three-year deal to take over as the club's head coach.
The former Brighton and Hove Albion manager has been favourite for the job since Di Canio was sacked a fortnight ago, his eventful tenure ending only five games into the new Premier League season and after 14 players were signed in the summer.
Poyet held talks with Sunderland officials in the wake of the Italian's dismissal but Ellis Short, the club's owner, has considered Kevin Ball's credentials on an interim basis for the past three games. With Sunderland rooted to the bottom of the table with only one point, however, Short has moved to end the uncertainty over the head coach's position and further talks with Poyet have recently taken place.
Although there has been no official confirmation from the club, the 45-year-old could be unveiled as early as Tuesday.
Sunderland have spoken to Poyet, Ball and the former Manchester United coach René Meulensteen over the vacancy at the Stadium of Light and the move for the Uruguayan represents a major vote of confidence in the director of football, Roberto De Fanti. It also reflects Short's desire for a coach who can fit into the club's managerial system. The influx of signings from abroad – only five of this summer's recruits had Premier League experience – is also believed to be a factor.
Poyet is De Fanti's leading choice and was considered for the post when Sunderland parted company with Martin O'Neill last season, only for Brighton's entitlement to about £2m in compensation to cool their interest. Poyet was subsequently suspended by Brighton and sacked in June for "gross misconduct", an allegation the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder has strenuously denied and threatened to take legal action over.
The Uruguayan, like Di Canio before him, has not managed at Premier League level and his coaching experience in the top flight involves 12 months as assistant to Juande Ramos at Tottenham. He has also coached at Swindon Town and Leeds United alongside Dennis Wise and enjoyed a successful three-and-a-half-year spell at Brighton, taking the club from the League One relegation zone in November 2009 to the Championship play-offs last season. Hopes of promotion to the Premier League ended in a semi-final defeat by Crystal Palace.
Poyet has not disguised his interest in the job since Di Canio was sacked after a poor start to the season and having allegedly alienated influential voices in the dressing room. He said recently: "I planned that over the first matches of this season I would pay a lot of attention to the teams I thought could be in trouble. Of course I watch Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester but there was a group of teams who, if they didn't start well, I thought I could have a chance. I was watching Sunderland a lot. People were talking a lot about them in the summer because of Paolo and how many new players they had. So I've seen quite a lot of them."
Providing there are no late contractual problems, Poyet's first game as Sunderland head coach will be away at Swansea City on 19 October. His first match in charge at the Stadium of Light would be the derby against Newcastle United on 27 October. He will inherit a team that has drawn one and lost six of seven Premier League matches this term, is six points adrift of third-from-bottom Norwich City, is without its leading striker, Steven Fletcher, until possibly December and is still to integrate the summer signings of De Fanti and the chief scout, Valentino Angeloni. Poyet would be Sunderland's sixth permanent manager in five years, a roll call that reads Di Canio, O'Neill, Steve Bruce, Ricky Sbragia and Roy Keane.
Poyet's appointment will come as a disappointment to Ball, the popular former Sunderland captain and manager of the club's academy team, who had hoped to become manager on a permanent basis. Ball oversaw a Capital One Cup defeat of Peterborough United in his first game as interim manager but was not helped by league fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United, both ending in home defeats despite improved performances.