SURPRISING as it might be to hear, Paolo Di Canio was a picture of restraint in the tunnel at St James’ Park.
Fresh from his finger- jabbing celebrations with the Sunderland supporters at full-time, he bowed his head as he strolled back to the visitors’ changing room deep in the bowels of the stadium in a mark of respect to his hosts.
However spotting one Black Cats official outside the melee, he strolled over and clasped them firmly around the cheek. “This,” he enunciated loudly and clearly. “Is just the beginning.”
How Sunderland supporters must be relishing those words.
Their club has gone from being described as Premier League “padding” by one incorrigible talk radio host to being one of the hottest tickets in the top flight – and all thanks to the boldest of strokes from owner Ellis Short.
One former Sunderland employee of distinction was asked by the Journal what the new man had brought to the club.
“He’s box office, isn’t he?” came the reply. “Whatever you think of him, you can’t take your eyes off him.
“He’s a leader and whatever happens at the end of the season he’s bought himself time with that result on Sunday.”
That much is true, but it is Di Canio’s fierce work ethic which has won him the most praise in the first weeks of his tenure.
Despite all of the hullabaloo over the derby-day win, Di Canio made a request on Monday to the club.
He wanted to be taken around the Stadium of Light, shown the dressing room, the media suite and the right corridors to get to the areas he needed to be in.
It is typical of a man whose enthusiasm for the job borders on a religious zeal that he wanted to know exactly the doors to push on Saturday.
He wants to project an air of confidence and defiance and, in the mind of a man who relishes meticulous planning, even walking down the wrong corridor might send the wrong message.
When he does get out on to the pitch, it is all about clear messages being delivered to the players.
Sunderland’s stars are a polite bunch who had respect for their old manager, so they chose their words about the new regime carefully.
Simon Mignolet, however, is able to provide some sort of insight into the work being carried out behind closed doors.
The goalkeeper said: “Inside the dressing room and on the training ground it is totally different to what you see on the pitch. “When you are winning or have won a game at Newcastle all the emotions come out, that’s normal and is celebrations showed his temperament.
“Inside the dressing room he makes sure everybody knows their job.
“He gives us all messages to make sure we all know what we have to do and that’s why we were ready to go out and get a result against Newcastle.
“The manager tries to get us organised before the game.
“He is not that old either, so he was a player himself not too long ago, so he likes to be involved with the players. Likes to feel part of it.
“It was not easy for him with the noise at St James’ to get his messages across, but he also delivers his messages on the training ground to us all so we tend to know what he wants already. He has high expectations of us all.” Di Canio’s attention to detail appears stunning; 3am finishes are not unknown and the clocking-off time of him and his coaching team is regularly four or five hours after the rest of his staff – not bad considering he starts at sunrise.
Pulling long hours is one thing but the days are being used to soak in every little bit of information possible.
Imagine the surprise of young Jordan Laidler and Mikael Mandron to hear their new boss reeling off stats about their fledgling careers – proof he has immersed himself in the Black Cat culture. All of this is what is powering the Di Canio survival project.
It might yet fall short, of course, and Sunderland’s comfort zone is not yet sufficiently stacked for them to sit back and admire the work they did on Sunday.
Another plan must be hatched and with Connor Wickham still yet to return to training there are precious few options. Hence the urgency on the training ground.
Mignolet explains: “On the training ground we have done a lot of tactical stuff.
“You can still see he was a very good player when he gets involved. Training is on his wave length.
“He knows what he wants every time out there and so far it has worked in matches.” Instead, the manager will need to keep squeezing out the tiniest of percentages and there is another mountain to climb against Everton on Saturday.
January 12 was the last time the Black Cats won at home.
Their record against the Toffees is also absolutely woeful – some 19 games and 12 years without tasting victory.
So if Di Canio was tempted to ease off – and there is no suggestion he is – then that provides a cautionary tale from history.