CONNOR Wickham and Danny Graham are fighting for their Sunderland futures as Paolo Di Canio seeks a radical overhaul of his Black Cats’ offensive options.
As debate rages over Di Canio’s get-tough policy with his squad – which has prompted an intervention from the Professional Footballers’ Association – it has emerged Wickham in particular has failed to take the opportunity afforded him by Steven Fletcher’s injury.
Di Canio has delivered a withering critique of his striking options and has said he needs more “quality” in his forwards – but the full extent of his displeasure with Wickham can now be revealed.
In particular, The Journal understands Di Canio issued him with a furious dressing-down after the Southampton game which surprised many of his team-mates.Related content
The manager then spent much of the first half against Tottenham bemoaning the striker’s contribution and at one stage appeared to be ready to substitute him before the break.
The £9million striker has been an enigmatic figure since joining Sunderland in the summer of 2011 – failing to establish himself in the first XI on Wearside but scoring regularly for the England under-21 side.
Former manager Martin O’Neill also resisted the temptation to put him in the Black Cats side for long periods when he was in charge and Di Canio’s displeasure with the striker’s performances will have alerted suitors willing to take
him. It says it all that most of those are from the Championship, with his former club Ipswich Town known to be long-term admirers.
Championship rivals Huddersfield Town would also be interested – but it is unclear whether either would be able to match the terms he is on at Sunderland.
Di Canio intends to use Fletcher in a slightly different role next season and is keen to develop Sunderland as a much more attacking team.
That means he is looking for at least two strikers ready to go into the first team – and Graham may be sacrificed too.
He only signed in January in a deal worth £5million but has failed to find the net and has struggled in recent weeks.
Di Canio’s view on his strikeforce has been clear over several weeks.
It was lost in the general furore but he said on Sunday: “In general, we need to bring in quality, particularly up front, because to win games you need to score. We don’t score many goals.”
The fall-out from Di Canio’s incredible press conference continued to make national headlines, especially after Gordon Taylor leapt to the defence of the PFA and warned Sunderland to adhere to the rules set out by the organisation.
As he made clear on Sunday, Di Canio has encountered resistance from some players since taking over – although The Journal understands it would be wrong to say his methods have not found favour with some of the squad who grew frustrated with results and the approach last season.
He has fined seven players – including outgoing pair Matt Kilgallon and Titus Bramble – and there has been displeasure over the size of the fines.
Taylor said: “There are rules laid down and we would expect Sunderland to adhere to those the same as every other club.
“I don’t want to get into confrontation with them but the players can’t be treated just according to what Paolo thinks.
“There are rules and procedures both he and the club need to adhere to.
“Yes, the players have come to us for representation. We are aware of the problem. The players did well for him when he came.
“There is a process. If the player has been fined and that is out of the regular code which is described by us and the Premier League, they have the right of appeal.”