Charlie Oatway says Sunderland’s backroom staff will need their summer holiday after working themselves into the ground in their obsession to improve the club.
The Black Cats’ first-team coach says the 2013-14 campaign – when the club reached a League Cup final and thrillingly avoided relegation – was the most draining of his professional life.
“I’ve never felt as bad as I did the day after we avoided relegation (with victory over West Bromwich Albion),” said the former Brighton and Hove Albion coach. “I don’t know what it was.
“Seriously, I felt like I’d been run over. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t motivate myself. I was sitting in the bath at quarter to seven in the morning, just laying in the bath. I couldn’t get motivated to do anything, which is so unlike me. I’m a little bit hyperactive.
“The first season when Gus (Poyet, now Sunderland’s head coach) came in at Brighton we were fighting relegation there (from League One), so that was tough. But we managed to stay up and I don’t recall waking up the next day and feeling as terrible as I did on Thursday.
“I can’t put my finger on it, I don’t know why I felt so bad. I woudn’t say I was emotional, I just felt lifeless, terrible. But that only lasted for a day, I felt great the next day.”
With 13 players not contracted to the club for next season, there is unlikely to be let-up for Poyet this summer. Italian media reported at the weekend Napoli are hoping to sign Swedish midfielder Sebastian Larsson, one of those whose contract was allowed to run down while Sunderland waited to see what division they will be playing in next season.
New technical director Lee Congerton is in charge of recruitment, but the Uruguayan has shown a desire to be hands-on in the transfer market. He took over player trading in January after Congerton’s predecessor Roberto Di Fanti was ousted.
And although Poyet will be working as part of ITV’s team of pundits at this summer’s World Cup, he is sure to spend a lot of time investigating potential transfer targets.
Oatway puts the tremendous amount of work Poyet and his backroom team put in during the season down to the absence of their partners. Oatway is the only member of the team whose girlfriend lives with him in the North East.
“We spend a lot of time together,” he revealed. “Gus is in most mornings half seven, quarter to eight, and we don’t leave here most nights until five or six o’clock. I’m not patting us on the back, but because we’re up here on our own – I’ve got my girlfriend up but Gus, Tanno (Poyet’s assistant Mauricio Tauricco) and Andy Beasley (the goalkeeping coach) haven’t got their wives up here – we spend a lot of time talking about football and what we’re going to do and not going to do, looking at players and scenarios.”
And although Sunderland only secured their top-flight status in the final week of the season, Oatway revealed tentative planning for the coming campaign began long before. “It’s a case of having little thoughts and plans if this happens or that happens, but you can’t be concrete on anything,” he said.