ADAM Johnson has been boosted by Paolo Di Canio’s assurances he wants to turn Sunderland into an “exciting” attacking side – after admitting Martin O’Neill’s safety-first strategy was a source of serious frustration last year.
Johnson (pictured left) was sold on the Black Cats by O’Neill’s promise of first-team football and fewer defensive responsibilities.
However, as the season developed, it became clear the former Aston Villa boss had made making Sunderland more solid his priority.
It helped the Black Cats to concede fewer goals than any team outside the top seven on their own turf – but also left them as the division’s second lowest scorers.
Only QPR hit the net fewer times.
If it was difficult to watch for Sunderland fans, it was equally tough for a player of Johnson’s attacking ability and imagination to play in. He has been buoyed by Di Canio’s desire to play more “free-flowing” football and anticipates more of a progressive strategy the safety-first approach O’Neill seemed to employ in most of his matches in charge.
Johnson told The Journal:
“Hopefully next season we’ll start causing teams more problems, attacking teams higher up the pitch rather than just defending 30 games out of 38 in a season.
“It’s been tough for our attacking players especially.
“I know we haven’t created as many chances as we wanted to but the gaffer wants us to play more free-flowing and to be more exciting and that’s something to look forward to.”
Di Canio (pictured above) is planning a plethora of changes to turn Sunderland into a more focused club next season and there have already been considerable changes in the backroom staff.
Robert De Fanti, a Fifa-registered agent who is well-known to Ellis Short through business associates, will take over as director of football from next week in an attempt to make the club smarter and more stream-lined in their recruitment.
In a slightly surprising development, youth coach Craig Liddle – who was recruited from Darlington last summer – will also depart the club.
Liddle had success with the under-18s last season and was part of the team which had earned Sunderland elite status in their Academy.
However, he has not survived a planned restructure of the club’s youth structure.
All of this is the background to what Short and Di Canio hope is going to be a much more encouraging campaign than the one just ended, which concluded with Sunderland just a place above the relegation zone.
That finish came after talk of challenging the top ten and even mounting a tilt for European qualification – two ambitions which never looked likely as the club failed to generate any kind of momentum.
It is little surprise Johnson does not want to be drawn into making predictions – saying the players must prove their ability before they start to set themselves aims for next year.
He added: ““After this season you just have get a good start next time and see where it takes us.”