IT is quite fitting that Michael Sollbauer’s most high-profile assignment so far this season arrived in Rome – a city synonymous with gladiatorial contests.
The Stadio Olimpico, as opposed to the Colosseum, was the venue with the defender and his Wolfsberger team-mates casting aside any thoughts of being metaphorically fed to the lions after facing the might of AS Roma.
In the event, Sollbauer and his Wolfsberger colleagues produced a turn-up for the books in drawing 2-2 with the hosts following on from a 1-1 draw in the reverse Group J Europa League fixture.
Wolfsberger also stunned crack German outfit Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 in their own back garden under the command of Gerhard Struber before he vacated for Barnsley.
Now the new Reds centre-half is stealing himself for facing the might of the Championship and defying odds again – in terms of staving off the drop as opposed to surprising a famous continental name or two.
It is something he is well versed in – having also earned his stripes in the Austrian Bundesliga in successfully winning several survival battles with Wolfsberger.
It is just as well, given Barnsley’s predicament at the foot of the Championship.
Sollbauer, whose 10-year association with Wolfsberger saw him play exclusively in the top-flight, said: recalled: “We had several situations where we were down in the table for half of the season where we were last and we always fought up to the last to stay in the league.
“It was really tough. The coach had gone. But I have the experience and the most important thing is the team being together – if you win or lose.
“You have to believe in yourself to the last.
“There are 17 games left and we cannot decide it on Saturday. Maybe in March, April or the last game.
“But we have the chance and you have to be clear and together and believe. I know it is not easy for the supporters and it is a hard situation. But the team – and I – will do everything to have success.”
On upsetting the odds in the Europa League, he continued: “Everybody thought that when we played in the group stage, we were lucky and like tourists.
“But what Gerhard told us that there was a chance if we believed in us – like when we started against Gladbach (Monchengladbach) who were first in the table.
“It was not easy against really good players, but he felt that with our game, they could really have problems and we went in at half-time at 3-0 after playing a really good game and everything was perfect.
“Then we played against Roma and it was 1-1 at home and it was also a great experience to play in Rome in the last game.
Roma led twice, but we always came back and that is what Gerhard gives the team – he always believes until the last moment.”
Comfortable in his native Austria in his life and work, many in Sollbauer’s shoes would have gladly settled for playing out his career amid the familiar surroundings of Wolfsberger.
That was plainly not for the experienced defender. He may turn thirty in May, but this stage of his career is ripe with opportunity and excitement in his eyes.
His family – including his young son – remain in Austria for the time being, but will come to England shortly as he fully embraces life in Yorkshire.
As for the notion of pressure in his new mission with Barnsley – with the stopper entrusted with guiding a kindergarten Reds defence who have lacked leadership, conviction and belief all this season – Sollbauer feels he has broad shoulders.
Sollbauer, set for a league debut in tomorrow’s big relegation ‘six-pointer’ at Charlton, said: “In professional sport, not only in football, there is always pressure.
“If you want to go to a higher level – like I did in coming from Austria to England – there is more pressure than at home.
“For me it was the right moment to come out of my comfort zone. I could have stayed in Austria four, five or six years more and know this type of play and I know I will be a really good defender in my league.
“But I heard about the challenge at Barnsley. It will not be easy and I do not come as a magician. But I believe in myself, the team and what Gerhard wants me to do.
“It is good to have this pressure. If you have no pressure, you will stay still. In a few months I turn 30, but I can increase my level.
“This is my game (in England). I enjoy the duel, although it is a little bit different to Austria. Here there is no whistle, but I am confident I can increase my level.
“You have to do it on the pitch. It is not about shouting, but leading. If you have to be loud, you are loud and it is important for the young professionals to learn.
“You should enjoy it in trainning, but there has to be clear and hard work when you are standing on the pitch.”
Sollbauer’s compatriot Marcel Ritzmaier will miss the weekend trip to The Valley with a knee injury.