Keiren Westwood has leapt to the defence of Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio, insisting the Black Cats players have no problem with the demands of their fiery boss.
Sunderland’s frustrating start to the season has seen Di Canio read the riot act to his new-look team both in private and in public in a series of straight-talking press conferences.
The Italian has been chided in some quarters for breaking the unspoken rule of not criticising players in public but Westwood says he speaks for the dressing room when he says Di Canio’s demands are exactly the same as those of the Sunderland stars he is upbraiding.
Indeed Westwood argues that Di Canio’s stewardship is not too far away from what he has experienced under previous managers. The Sunderland stopper is currently on international duty with Ireland, who are managed by Di Canio’s compatriot Giovanni Trapattoni.
“(Di Canio) is like any manager, he wants you to do well. He puts demands on you and he’s not going to make it easy for you,” he said.
“You’ve got to play well – if you’re a professional footballer you want to play well for your team-mates and your fans anyway. It’s not just about the manager. He puts pressures on you but every manager will do the same.”
Sunderland are still searching for their first win of the season and the fixture list hardly gets any easier this weekend, when Arsenal – complete with record signing Mesut Ozil – are the visitors to the Stadium of Light.
For periods Sunderland have looked a good unit and there is obviously more structure and purpose to their play under Di Canio. But they have been undermined by poor defending from set-pieces and a lack of concentration that has prompted Di Canio’s disappointment.
Westwood insists that Sunderland do not have too many reasons to be disappointed and his message to the club’s critics is that they will – eventually – click and come together. He says they are a much better team than they have been given credit.
“We’re OK, we’re a good side. We just need to believe and have trust in each other. That will come - we just need to keep going,” he said. Sunderland’s new-look squad was added to in the days before the transfer deadline last week, with midfielder Ki and left-back Andrea Dossena snapped up while Stephane Sessegnon completed a £6million move to West Brom.
Perhaps one of biggest contradictions of the new season has been that Di Canio has barely utilised those new players while last year’s stalwarts have tended to get the nod. One theory is that the newcomers are still getting to grips with life in England but Westwood argues that they are perfectly well integrated already - and they are ready to make an impact. He said: “We’ve got extra players coming in so we’ll see.
“Thirteen new signings are what we’ve got but when the players are good enough – as these guys are – you should be able to gel.
“We don’t feel like strangers. We spent a lot of time together over the summer and luckily the gaffer managed to get most of his signings in before we went away for pre-season.”
Di Canio will be delighted to hear the positive message from Westwood. He said last week: “It is obvious to me that how well we do this season will depend to some extent upon how tight a unit we are as a squad.”