Three times Charlie Oatway returned to the phrase. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he parroted when musing over what has been and will need to be done at Sunderland Association Football Club.
This is quite right. What is also true is that it took a Roman just six months to rip the guts out of the place.
The mess Paolo Di Canio left Gus Poyet and Oatway on Wearside will take some time to clear up. Those first Romans had it easy.
There might not even be enough time to save Sunderland from relegation this season.
Poyet and his coaching team would have known they had a job on their hands when accepting Ellis Short’s offer to manage in the Premier League. All surely underestimated just how big the task was.
Only West Brom in recent history have been bottom of the table at Christmas and survived. When will the torture end?
Oatway said: “Life is a fight. You either stand up and be counted in everything that you do or you sink. We came here knowing what the situation was and we’re going to try our best to make sure we succeed at our football club.
“I want to come here and wave a magic wand around, stay up and everyone would then pat us on the back. Life doesn’t work like that. You have to take the rough with the smooth. After our last home game we had to take a little bit of the rough.
“We have walked into a fantastic football club with a great fanbase. I’m not saying that so you can write it. I’m not saying it for that reason. It is what it is. We just have to get the football side right.
“Am I enjoying it? I’ll tell you when we win games. I certainly don’t when we lose them. That’s the way it is. If we win games and get out of the crap that we are in, then great. If we don’t, then I haven’t enjoyed my time.”
One of Di Canio’s many, many problems was that he was right. All the time. Everyone else was wrong.
That’s okay if you are Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola. Not so much if your managerial CV is as bare as a month-old Christmas tree.
Poyet rules by committee. Everyone gets a say.
He, Oatway, assistant head coach Mauricio Taricco, fitness coach Antonio Pintus and at times Andy Beasley, the goalkeeping coach will have long and occasionally heated conversations about the best way forward.
Oatway said: “Sometimes they go off speaking Spanish and forget that I’m sitting there.
“It does get heated, but it’s all for the benefit of our football club and to make things right in any way we can. Gus will willingly tell you that he’s not always right. The gaffer has a way of playing football.
“That doesn’t mean it’s right, but it’s right for him.
“He is not the sort to say ‘you have had your say, now I’m going off to do this.’ No, he will change plans because of something one of us has said.”
Oatway has had a colourful life, including brushes with the law and a brief time in prison. His book is well worth looking out. So this is a guy who has had ups and downs, which one would imagine will help during this difficult period.
He said: “Every year you get older, you manage to digest things easier and be more sensible than you were as a youngster.
“The good thing for us is when we get in the office we bounce well off each other. When someone has got something critical to say then we manage to dice it up.
“We have very heated discussions in there, but I must admit I’m a little bit calmer than I used to be. Am I Boring? No. You haven’t been out with me.”
The worry for Sunderland (as if there is only one) is that Poyet has looked pretty dejected after recent games. It’s almost as if he’s accepted the inevitable.
Oatway said: “Everyone is different and some people take longer to digest a result, to have a sensible thought on the game. Gus wears his heart on his sleeve and he wants to win games. If his team is not performing, we are going to be bitter.
“The one thing I respect him about is that he never criticises his players. It’s always us. It’s always we. That’s his mentality.
“He won’t go out and literally point fingers at players, which is easy to do, and he would be well within his rights to do. But he won’t do that.
“I take my hat off to him because he takes it all. If someone or some people don’t perform, he’s the one who has to come up and talk to you guys. He is the one putting his head above the parapet and answer difficult questions.
“He is trying to keep a lid on the situation and give a good account of himself.”
So can Sunderland save themselves?
Oatway said: “All I do is look forward. I don’t care what happened before. All I’m interested in is keeping our football club in the best league in the world.
“Players need confidence. On a daily basis I have to try and make sure everyone is happy and raring to go. We haven’t had any problems with the players. They have worked to the best of their ability, and hopefully if keep doing that then we will stay up.”