Sunderland: Di Canio cautiously turns the Black Cats to the future

It promised to be a frantic first summer in charge of Sunderland for Paulo Di Canio and it is rather safe to assume the charismatic Italian wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tasked with easing a wage bill that had been allowed to swell to 82% of their annual turnover under Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neil and finding a replacement for their number one goalkeeper and cleaning up a culture of player that Di Canio referred to as “mentally restricted” as he lamented gross indiscipline in the squad, it is a baptism of fire for the ex-Swindon boss as he embarks on his first full season in charge of a top level club.

Di Canio has started his Wearside revolution by appointing an all Italian back-room staff, including a Director of Football in Roberto Di Fanti and a Chief Scout in Valentino Angeloni.

Their knowledge of the continent appealing to Di Canio and it has already reaped reward with the signings of Valentin Roberge and Cabral, who both join on frees from Portugal and Switzerland respectively.

David Moberg Karlssonm arrived from IFK Gothenburg for a small fee. Senegalese centre-half Modibo Diakite also represents a bargain, joining for nothing from Italian side Lazio. To replace Simon Mignolet, the talented Belgian goalkeeper who has joined Liverpool for £9 million, Di Canio has shrewdly taken Vito Mannone from Arsenal for £7 million less.

The 25-year-old Italian keeper has played just 15 times in the league for the Gunners but has often been solid, his reputation suffering as a result of some high profile errors in Europe as a consequence of inexperience. At Sunderland, where he is likely to compete with Kieran Westwood for the starting spot, he will be exposed to more playing time and considerably less pressure.

So far, the imports have been safe deals, seemingly well-scouted players on small fees to cover the likes of Titus Bramble, Matt Kilgallon and Mohamed Elmohamady, who have all departed the club. It is perhaps an admirable, welcome approach given the near £30 million outlay on Danny Graham, Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson over the course of last season in which they only finished 17th.

When pressed on the prospect of more signings, Di Canio has urged the fans to “relax” as “once again on the start of the season, they will be happy”, suggesting the possibility of more arrivals before August 17th.

Despite the cryptic stance, it is perfectly clear the type of player Di Canio is after. “The players I select will always have to wear the shirt with honour, dignity and respect” he said, outlining his ambition to “build a very, very good team with a very good work-ethic”.

Di Canio has yearned to shift Sunderland away from the culture of misconduct that he took such an objection to when inheriting the squad from O’Neil in April.

His tirade, in which he called his players more “arrogant and ignorant” than those he managed in his job with Swindon in League One, was driven by a photograph of Phil Bardsley lying on the floor of a casino covered in £50 notes. And it is surprising to see the right-back still on the books at the Stadium of Light given Di Canio’s pledge to make sure “these players will not be here next year”.

That character and honour was of extreme importance to Di Canio was made palpable by his time at Swindon, where the mass-overturn of players was underlined by a constant drive for success, merged with his outspoken nature, that often created rifts in the squad.

The Italian however, managed to keep a reign on the volatility to ensure the success of the League Two championship before leaving the team in the play-offs of League One eight months later.

Di Canio and his scouts would have undoubtedly scrutinised heavily the characters of any potential arrival to the north east to guarantee they will abide by the manager’s typically tough line and emphasis on hard work and consummate respect.

In Cabral and Diakite, they will also get players with European experience to bolster the spine of the side, while in Roberge they get a 26-year-old centre-half who was a regular in Maritimo’s recent run into the Europa League in Portugal.

Their additions will address a defence that leaked 54 goals in last year’s narrow escape from relegation whereas Karlsson will add pace and skill to the wings alongside Johnson, who saw his progress hindered by an unbalanced squad last term.

Duncan Watmore, a 19-year-old centre-forward, also joins from Altrincham but he is a signing with the future definitely in mind. The immediate future under Di Canio may not have overwhelmed many Sunderland fans with his steady but sure approach to transfer activity, but there is little doubt that the Italian’s methods will be focused towards the benefit of the club, given his burning desire to win.

Given the amount of work that lay in wait this summer for Sunderland’s new coach, it has been relatively quiet on the banks of the river Wear, though with his volatile nature and his constant striving for success, expect Di Canio’s off-season to meander through more twists and turns before late-August.

As he says himself, just “relax”.

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