The Agenda: Which players will be the victims of the Paolo Di Canio revolution?

Sunderland have done a good job of bringing new players in this summer. Now, says Stuart Rayner, they must clear out the deadwood or risk the consequences

Sunderland AFC Manager Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland AFC Manager Paolo Di Canio

Phil Bardsley’s weekend foray into social media highlighted the work Sunderland still have to do in the transfer window.

Ten players have been signed this summer – nine permanently. More are needed – at left-back, centre-forward and in central midfield – but most Premier League clubs, not least the Black Cats’ neighbours, would kill for their transfer market success rate.

Transfer windows, though, are about more than just the players you bring in. Sometimes who goes out can be as important.

Paolo Di Canio’s whirlwind revolution is not without victims. Few supporters will shed any tears if those not good enough to wear the shirt are left behind, but the problem is those who remain at the club.

On Saturday evening, Bardsley helpfully identified himself as one such problem.

“Great opening day. Hahahahahaha,” was his Instagram response to Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat to Fulham.

Even by the standards of someone pictured lying on a casino floor covered in bank notes a few nights before the final day of the season, it was not the brightest thing to do.

Albeit in name only, Bardsley is still a Sunderland player, and will be at least for the rest of 2013 after breaking a metatarsal playing for the Under-21s last week.

His only escape route before then would be a loan when he recovers, but that would require stepping down into the Football League.

Even that is some way off. In the meantime his boss is still a man capable of just about anything.

If some Sunderland players were put out by Di Canio’s liberal use of fines for what they saw as trivial offences at the end of last season, what will Bardsley’s punishment be for this blatant insubordination? The only guarantee is he will not simply shrug his shoulders at the musings of a bitter outcast, as he may have if Bardsley had just waited until he was out of the door before taking to his keyboard.

It is not just Bardsley’s problem, though.

The danger is such thinking could poison Sunderland’s dressing room. There are sure to be like-minded team-mates.

It was easy enough for Di Canio to decide that most of the players he inherited did not meet his exacting standards.

But those he does not want must be rooted out – a job much more difficult in the Premier League than at his last job with lower-league Swindon Town.

Players on lengthy and lucrative contracts are hard to move on against their will.

Why should a footballer uproot his family and take a pay cut just for a quieter life?

Some of those on Di Canio’s hit list have been easier to get rid of than others. Fortunately for him, Martin O’Neill had not renewed the contracts of Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon, making it easy for his successor to say “arrivederci” at the end of the season.

Di Canio got lucky with James McClean too.

The Republic of Ireland winger was prepared to take a pay cut to escape to Wigan Athletic. McClean insists Sunderland wanted to keep him, and no-one has contradicted that, but it seemed like a bullet dodged.

McClean is to tactful diplomacy what... well, what Di Canio is. Sooner or later there was bound to be a confrontation between the player and his coach, and the chances are McClean’s actions may have left Bardsley looking like a model professional.

Alfred N’Diaye’s loan to Turkey postponed rather than averted a problem.

The rest, though, have been hard to shift.

David Vaughan was thought to be on his way to Crystal Palace at the start of pre-season but no deal was forthcoming. Persistent speculation that Ji Dong-won is to return to the Bundesliga has failed to materialise.

Quite how big a problem – if at all – Lee Cattermole will be is hard to judge.

The midfielder is a close friend of Bardsley’s, though that may not necessarily mean they share a sense of schadenfreude. This will be the first time in his career Cattermole has been an outcast, so his attitude towards the balance between play and pay is unknown.

Conveniently, Cattermole has started the season injured but his rehabilitation has taken place alongside the juniors – hardly the sign of a player vital to the cause. Having not featured for the first team in pre-season, he picked up his latest problem in the same under-21 game against Bolton Wanderers that Bardsley did.

Cattermole has been stripped of his squad number – though unlike the full-back he has been given another – and while the club have acted with more secrecy than MI5 this summer, the absence of any information on the identity of the club captain suggests it is no longer Cattermole.

It is safe to assume that as soon as Sunderland get a decent bid for the Teessider, they will accept it. But that seems to have been the case for weeks and he is still at the club.

At the end of last season Di Canio publicly ridiculed Connor Wickham. Now Sunderland must hope the England Under-21 international uses it as motivation to prove the Italian wrong because if not, none of the clubs likely to be interested will be able to match the wages of Sunderland’s most expensive teenager.

Even some of the players Di Canio does want may not be happy. The coach has made his desire to keep Jack Colback clear, but the feeling is not mutual. In public, Sunderland and St�phane Sess�gnon claim to be very much in love, but someone somewhere is doing nothing to discourage flirty advances.

Every successful football team needs a unity of purpose to succeed. Di Canio may have such a team, but could also find himself with a rebellious rabble as well.

That is the problem with management by hand grenade. It can blow up in your face.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer