Gustavo Poyet was getting bogged down in semantics yesterday afternoon.
For a man who does not have English as his first language, the Uruguayan does a decent job of communicating in it. One word he used on Monday night, though, has stuck in the craw of Sunderland supporters.
“It would be a miracle to stay up,” he declared after Monday’s 5-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur.
With seven games to play, his team need as many points just to bridge the gap to Premier League safety from Everton (home), Manchester City (away), Chelsea (away), Cardiff City (home), Manchester United (away), West Bromwich Albion (home) and Swansea City (home).
More than a few Sunderland fans agree. Not all, though, will be happy to hear their coach being so defeatist.
The problem, says Poyet, is not his grasp of the language, but honesty.
He insists: “If it was impossible, I would say impossible, but I am saying ‘miracle’.
“A hypocrite would say a miracle MEANING impossible because they use the word as a way of not speaking the truth so they can get away with it.
“I am not like that. I am telling the truth. If you want me to lie, I cannot do that.
“A miracle is a miracle. We need a miracle.”
The dictionary defines a miracle as “an extraordinary and welcome event not explicable by natural or scientific laws and therefore attributed to a divine agency”, so if Poyet’s team escapes relegation we can safely conclude God is a Sunderland fan – albeit something of a late convert judging by the last 40 years or so. It is not the first time in recent weeks Poyet has had to defend a passionate comment.
As he stood up to leave the post-match press conference following the previous defeat, at West Ham United, Poyet said the day his team stopped trying would be the day he resigned. Some who watched the Spurs defeat are of the opinion that day was April 7 at around 8.28pm.
“It’s not in the back of my mind,” says Poyet when challenged. Nobody in the press conference room had mentioned the feeble defeat at Norwich City, where Poyet made two first-half tactical substitutions, but his answer suggests he believes his team stopped trying at Carrow Road. He continued: “I am making sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I don’t want to make changes before half-time. When you do, the team selection, the plan goes.
“I accept criticism in any way. That’s my job. In a relegation battle, you must battle – minimum.”
Off he goes again. He is not a happy chappy.
Despite his insistence he is happy to shoulder criticism, he is disgruntled at being asked before the Spurs game why he had not been picking Adam Johnson from the start (he did on Monday, to little effect).
That Poyet is prone to strong statements is because he is refreshingly passionate about the game.
No supporter wants to see a coach going through the motions and at the end of the day no journalists is ever over the moon to hear real feelings masked by the meaningless clichéd platitudes commonplace in football.
“I care,” says Poyet, though he hardly needs to.
“That’s the way I have been all of my life. I become supportive of whichever club I am at. As soon as I sign a contract for a club, that’s my club, I’d die for that club.
“The problem is I am not a hypocrite. We have too many hypocrites around the world, telling people what they want to hear. We have enough with the politicians telling us what we want to hear.
“If one of my players thinks I shouldn’t be negative he doesn’t deserve to be a Sunderland player.
“If one of the fans thinks Ishould be lying to them I should not be here.
“I want to be in the job because I am doing well, not being paid to tell people what they want to hear.” It is impossible to dispute Poyet’s passion, just as it was with his predecessor, Paolo Di Canio.
The question is, do his players share it?
“I trust them to the end,” says Poyet, dodging the question in true politician style.
“I keep saying to the fans, trust us to the end. Until the last game, the last goal, then we will talk. Then we will can talk about everything.
“There’s no point in analysing now, you can’t change anything.
“We are living in a world which is so different now, we have to manage the best we can. It’s true there is too much money (paid to footballers), but that’s society.”
So is Poyet too emotional? “No, no, I was not emotional,” he says of Monday’s outburst. “If you want me to say to you I made a mistake by saying the word ‘miracle’ you will not get it.
“Do you think I am emotional now? Do you know how many people say to me I shouldn’t say what I say? The lot. We need a miracle.
“I thought we needed four wins. Now, three wins and a draw. I don’t know. Maybe less. I always thought 40 (points) and now people say 36.
“Four wins is difficult because of the games we have but at the same time, it’s there. We can win four games.
“Probably – that is another word I have learnt, meaning it could be or not.”