Kevin Ball has relaxed the disciplinary rules and brought back the laughter at Sunderland.
However, the caretaker boss still expects his Black Cats to work hard in the run-up to Liverpool – although Gus Poyet could be in charge by then, with Italian sources suggesting he could be unveiled as manager within 48 hours, although Sunderland say it will take longer.
But for now, Ball has declared a clean slate for the Sunderland players after the extraordinary reign of Paolo Di Canio, which featured bizarre rules including not being able to make eye contact with club staff on match days.
Falling foul of the boss pushed several players into the margins, including Lee Cattermole, Phil Bardsley and midfielder Cabral. Ball says all can have a future at Sunderland under him, while also emphasising players will be allowed to joke around.
Not that this will be a free rein for the players not to behave seriously at the training ground – just more of a common-sense attitude after the extreme regulations of Di Canio.
He explained: “That is me in general, that is me as a person. I like them to work extremely hard. I am one of these sort of people who would say, ‘Listen, there is a time and a place to have a joke and a laugh but also a time to be serious’.
“If it’s their time and they want to have a bit of a laugh, I’ll let them do it. If it’s my time and they want to have a bit of a laugh and it’s right, I’ll do it.
“But if I felt it was a time to work hard then I would say the same again. I would expect them to be just like that.”
Ball has re-opened the door to Cattermole and Cabral, promising to include both in his plans for Liverpool.
“The other manager had his prerogative and fair play to him,” he said. “From my point of view, I’m possibly only here until Sunday. Within that remit I will pick what I think is the right team to play the game. But what I’ll also do is speak to all the players and I’ll explain why.
“Ultimately, some will be, ‘OK, no problem’, and others might be quite upset. We had one player who was upset he wasn’t playing against Peterborough, but not upset ‘boo hoo’. He was upset because he wants to play.
“That is a little bit of a difference. I thought fair play. It made me feel good because it means I have players that are hungry to play football. I explained why to him and he was happy with that.”
Cattermole in particular was outstanding against Peterborough, brushing aside speculation about his own role in Di Canio’s demise to remind supporters of why he is club captain.
Ball agreed. He said: “I think the performance he gave was outstanding.
“I thought he worked really, really hard, both in possession and out of possession. I thought the way he drove the other players on was fantastic. And that is what you expect from Lee.
“After a certain period in the first half he went down on his haunches and I sort of shouted, ‘Are you alright?’ and he shouted back, ‘No, I’ve just taken one in the knackers’.
“And I went, ‘Fair enough then!’. But again, it was a performance from somebody who hasn’t played 90 minutes for a long period of time and I thought he was excellent.
“There were a lot of others but you’d have to give credit to him.
“I think anybody that is able to play at the level they can should just want to play football. They should just want to go out and play and do the best they possibly can.
That’s not always going to be the case, I can understand that. But I think in the players here you have that.
“And I think Lee in particular showed that against Peterborough.”