So far, so good for Paolo Di Canio’s plan of action

Sunderland’s defeat of Tottenham has added to the momentum building around Paolo Di Canio’s side. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports

Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio
Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio

Sixty-six days had passed between Paolo Di Canio firing the first shots in his Sunderland revolution in a sweltering press room to the side of White Hart Lane and his team’s Hong Kong reunion with Tottenham, but it may as well have been a lifetime.

Early days these may well be, but nothing that played out in sodden South East Asia will have queried the red and white summer narrative that Di Canio and influential director of football Roberto De Fanti have changed the Black Cats for the better this close season.

Of course, there are mitigations to factor in, not least an appalling pitch, Tottenham’s ineffectual display and the fact that pre-season tune-ups are notoriously difficult to read too much into.

But there could be no escaping the feeling that Di Canio has used the break to roll out a game plan that offers Sunderland more intent, invention and coherent ideas than they ever had last season.

First impressions of Emanuele Giaccherini, the robust Cabral and David Moberg Karlsson ranged from favourable to exciting.

The Italy winger, in particular, adds ability and attacking intention from the flanks, while former Basel midfielder Cabral clearly has something about him.

It was the way Sunderland attacked as a group that most impressed, though.

At pace and with intuition, they might actually have added the capacity to get their supporters on their feet over the summer.

The win was useful for the ultra-competitive Di Canio, as is anything that maintains Sunderland’s burgeoning momentum. Supporters will definitely have savoured it.

For those who tuned into Sky’s coverage, the sight of Trevor Francis trashing Sunderland’s recruitment drive proved a curious one.

Francis, of course, is a former colleague of Martin O’Neill, so we might expect him to feel pangs of sympathy for a friend. But addressing the signing of Giaccherini with a question about why Juventus would want to sell him if he could play seemed a tad ignorant.

In case he – or anyone else, for that matter – needs reminding, there is method to Sunderland’s summer restructuring. Track it way back to that day in March when O’Neill was introduced to De Fanti in London following that dismal defeat by QPR if you like, because that is when Ellis Short’s desire for a complete overhaul of Sunderland’s football operations was beginning to bear fruit.

Since Spring, the Black Cats have been laying the groundwork for the deals that have been brokered in the close season. They have been pressing the flesh in Italy for months with the intention of convincing influential agents and advisers that there is an ambitious project unfurling on Wearside.

Maybe Giaccherini wasn’t a regular at Juventus. But he is a big upgrade on what Sunderland had, and he would not have signed for the club if they had not done their homework – convincing the people that surround him that making the move to England would increase his chances of playing in the World Cup.

It is how Premier League football clubs do their business these days, but for years it has felt like Sunderland have lagged behind. Last summer, it reached its nadir as O’Neill presented his wishlist to the Black Cats board that was virtually entirely British-based.

Good players they might have been, but on the budget Sunderland have there needs to be invention and ingenuity about the way they work. Finally, it seems they have that and the players they have signed have been hand-picked to fit in with Di Canio’s preferred method of play rather than recruited because Sunderland need bodies. It is worth remembering that when you hear people questioning the lack of Premier League experience in the Black Cats’ squad.

All of this, of course, comes with the health warning that Sunderland’s summer revolution is a gamble. It is almost impossible to recall any Premier League manager attempting what Di Canio and the Italian recruitment team at Sunderland have tried this summer and nine new arrivals – so far – is remarkable.

Can all make an instant and lasting impact in the Premier League? If they did, it would be astounding. But Di Canio’s fitness work and methodology has been developed with the intention of making sure they do.

And for those who felt he had isolated the core of Sunderland’s squad, there was the intriguing return of Wes Brown – along with some typically robust quotes about the standard of his fitness from Di Canio afterwards. He has trained for 30 days straight according to Di Canio, quite an achievement given his inability to last 30 minutes before then.

It will be a combination of squeezing the best from his new arrivals while also encouraging improvements from the existing players that will be the key to Sunderland’s success this season. So far, so good.


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