Paolo Di Canio has told "slow- paced" summer signing Cabral he is fourth choice for Sunderland’s midfield – and must improve to have a part to play in his plans.
The close-season capture from Basel was not included in the match-day squad for the visit of Arsenal and has not played a minute of Premier League football since his debut against Fulham on the opening day.
In a concerning development for the 24-year-old, Di Canio admits Cabral has “difficulties” and will have to show a steep improvement to get back into the reckoning.
It is a curious twist given how heavily the ex-Switzerland under-21 international was involved in Sunderland’s pre-season games.
David Vaughan – who might have left in the summer – and new signing Ki were preferred in the Black Cats’ engine room for the weekend defeat against Arsenal.
Cabral’s omission was for football reasons according to Di Canio, who says the midfielder needs to “understand” the Premier League better.
While he is not yet closing the door on the new arrival, his short-term prospects of playing appear bleak.
Di Canio said: “In this moment I think I have better footballers who can do me a better job in the middle.
“We need a bit more fire, a bit more high-tempo, a bit more physical presence.
“Little Vaughany is not a physical presence, but he’s more sharp, even if he did not play very well against Arsenal.
“In the last two games he was one of the best. He is sharp and can interpret the game in England better than Cabral, who is slow- paced. Ki, even though he looked tired in the second half, has quality, keeps the ball and is calm.
“You see with Craig Gardner in the second half, another really good guy, he has a bit more fire and did very well. At this moment it is difficult for Cabral.
“It doesn’t mean he won’t play in the future but it’s very difficult for him, I have to be honest.
“Maybe one day, if he can show me he understands his football, then yes.
“Otherwise, in the middle, the heart of the game, especially against top sides, we will be beaten. At this moment, Cabral has difficulties.
“We will see in the future, but at this moment he is behind three I have in the middle.”
One of Cabral’s midfield competitors is Craig Gardner, who entered the fray in the second half to good effect.
Having finally been displaced at right-back by the signing of Ondrej Celustka (pictured right), Gardner should get more opportunities in the centre of midfield to fill the role of physical and enterprising midfield link man – which is what Di Canio wants. His second-half penalty goal was reward for a spritely performance. Gardner said: “I’d like to think I made a difference in the second half. I came off the bench and I’ve got fire in the belly. I want to impress. I’ve had a slow start to the season what with being suspended and not playing and being injured.
“I want to play games, I want to get involved and I was delighted to get the goal. Hopefully, I can kick on from here.
“I think in the second half we took it to them a bit more. We were on them. We got the goal, hit the post from the free-kick and could have scored another two or three.
“We were right on top when they got the second, which came as a bit of a blow to us to be honest.”