Sunderland's three best players last season were Simon Mignolet, Danny Rose and – when he came to the party in March – Stephane Sessegnon.
This morning, none are at the Stadium of Light as Paolo Di Canio continues to plot a path towards a “red and white revolution”. He could do nothing about Rose and Mignolet but Sessegnon, their saviour in the dying days of last season, last night departed with his full blessing.
It is a sizeable gamble by the Sunderland boss but then again, when was he ever likely to take the easy route to progress?
The only surprising thing about the sale of Sessegnon was that an idea hatched by Di Canio and the rest of the coaching team took so long to germinate.
The Benin forward was told he could leave at the end of last season and his agent began to test the water with Premier League clubs – including, intriguingly, Newcastle United – but he returned to pre-season training with the bit between his teeth. That posed a dilemma for Di Canio and plans to sell seemed to be dropped as Sessegnon was handed a critical role in Sunderland’s new “mechanism”.
Now he has been sold on deadline day – albeit for a decent price – and Di Canio will come back after deadline day without his most creative player.
It all feels rather rushed given the apparently methodical way that the club were doing business in the early days of the summer. Three players with decent European experience – Cabral, Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge – were signed the day the window opened and a flurry of enquiries for South American and Italian talent followed as Sunderland prepared to make the major changes Di Canio had threatened.
The new arrivals included Emanuele Giaccherini, a full Italian international, and Jozy Altidore – who had enjoyed a lethal season in Holland’s Eredivisie and looks to have the perfect combination of hunger, ability and a desire to submit to Di Canio’s regime.
All the while, though, Di Canio hungered for a player with “the keys” to sit in midfield. After winning in only their third pre-season outing in Denmark, Di Canio made it very clear that he wanted an English playmaker with power and poise to sit and dictate play – a hint that seemed to point towards an interest in Tom Huddlestone.
But Huddlestone headed for Hull and the Black Cats struggled to find a player within their budget. An understandable desire to push the boat out for Giaccherini, an international of some repute, had left the club playing with a smaller pot than they anticipated and a loan move for Swansea’s Ki was the eventual solution. He is not English and his experience of the Premier League is limited to one season at Swansea in which he failed to nail down a firstteam spot.
Sunderland moved through left-back targets at the rate of knots. Benjamin Mendy eventually went to Marseille while Gino Peruzzi’s move was hampered by a failed medical. Eventually they settled on Napoli’s Andrea Dossena, formerly of Liverpool, who had reportedly failed a medical with Torino last week.
Having been so methodical early in the summer, the later business felt less so. Dossena, Fabio Borini and Ki must all get up to speed with the Di Canio way quickly, which might be a sizeable task given the importance that he placed on the meticulous pre-season camps in Italy and Hong Kong. With 13 new players, Di Canio’s job is to weld all of these different components together and come up with a coherent system and line-up.
It is not just the squad that has been overhauled during a summer of change – the entire structure of the club has been revamped by Short.
In came Roberto De Fanti and Valentino Angeloni as director of football and chief scout in place of Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, whose job was under threat from the moment Martin O’Neill was relieved of his duties.
There is a major Italian flavour to this new structure but it is worth noting that Short has one of his men at the centre of the operation. Ryan Sachs – who is a business associate of Short – is listed as the assistant director of football to De Fanti but is another who has so far operated in the shadows.
You suspect that they are as important as Di Canio in this summer revolution but it has been the former Swindon boss who has been happy to absorb the headlines so far this season. Not all have been positive.
Having captured the Wearside public’s imagination with talk of an overhaul and shaving the excuse culture at the Stadium of Light, Di Canio required proof that his methods work.
A single point from his first three games is not a great return, and the latest public railing against his players feels like another risk.
They have defended poorly at times, that is true. But Di Canio is implicated in that as the manager and must take some responsibility too.
It is far too early to deliver a judgement on the red and white revolution but deadline day further emphasised one point: Di Canio will continue to gamble